(1998, Darren Aronofsky)
“Mathematics is the language of nature”
So, today is Pi Day, an international celebration of the number Pi (or π if you want to be technical), due to the American date being 3.14, equivalent to π. So to celebrate, here’s a movie named after that same number. It’s a movie about maths! I assume that means this will be a film only a mathematician can love, right? And since I have about as much skill with numbers as a dolphin does operating a tin opener, I should be bored stiff by this, right?
Well, take another look at that director name. Look familiar? It should. It’s Darren Aronofsky, director of psychological rollercoaster movies like Requiem For A Dream and Black Swan, both of which gained positive reviews here, so maybe this is a little more than a movie about numbers.
Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) is a strange loner of a man who lives in a small New York apartment. Due to an incident where he looked directly at the sun as a child, he gained an almost supernatural ability to calculate numbers, and sees number patterns in everything around him, offset by terrible headaches that appear at random, often accompanied with terrifying hallucinations. During his work, he gets approached by executives on Wall Street and members of a strange Jewish cult, as his work leads him to finding a strange 216-digit number that apparently holds great secrets.
Well, this is certainly an Aronofsky movie. Stylistically, it feels like a bizarre cross between Eraserhead and Fight Club, with shots ripped straight from Requiem For A Dream (that chest-mounted camera that followed Jennifer Connelly’s walk of shame makes another appearance here, for example). It’s dark, it’s moody, and it messes with reality like nobody’s business.
And in fact, the style of the shots and the editing is what makes the film work so well. Shot entirely in black-and-white, the movie gains a noir-ish feel, making everything seem darker and dirtier. There are a lot of quick cuts and everything feels frantic and almost unreal. We’re not sure if all of this is really happening or just in Max’s head. And it’s fantastic.
Although the subject matter could be confusing, the movie manages to keep complex mathematics to a minimum, instead playing on the idea of patterns and conspiracy theories, with mathematics being one of the many fields used to study these things. There’s a strong sense of mystery here, and it makes for a surprisingly good thriller. So even if you don’t get maths, like I do, it’s still possible to enjoy the film, which was a fantastic move for Aronofsky.
That said, the frenetic pace does kind of mask that there isn’t much of a plot here. Things can get a little repetitive at times, and at times it feels like even Aronofsky wasn’t sure what the purpose of the mysterious number was. Max spends a lot of time talking to himself or talking complex maths with his mentor Sol (Mark Margolis), or wandering round the subway. Not a lot happens when you start to break it down, although it is all shot and paced perfectly.
Some of the strange psychological imagery was a little too weird. Max finding brains everywhere didn’t make a lot of sense, and even less sense when poking those brains caused him to imagine subway cars driving towards him.
It’s difficult to say much about Pi, since saying too much gives too much away and some aspects of it just have to be seen to be believed or understood. It’s such a bizarre and unique movie. It’s a very tense and baffling mystery thriller, and I loved every minute. It may feel a little less well-produced than Aronofsky’s later efforts, but it still stands up as an excellent work all the same.
Starring Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman & Samia Shoaib
Written by Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette & Eric Watson
Produced by Darren Aronofsky, Eric Watson & Scott Vogel
Music by Clint Mansell
Cinematography by Matthew Libatique
Edited by Oren Sarch
Favourite Scene: Most of the interactions between Max and Sol were very interesting to watch
Scene That Bugged Me: So what was with the brain poking summoning a phantom subway car?
Watch it if: You like maths and seeing patterns in things
Avoid it if: You have a severe allergy to numbers