(USA - 1998)

by Vanes Naldi & Mike Lorefice

Cast: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Pamela Hart, Stephen Pearlman, Samia Shoaib
Genre: Sci-Fi/Thriller
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
Composer: Clint Mansell
Runtime: 85 minutes

Vanes: This was just incredible. One of the smartest thrillers I've seen in the last 3 years.

Mike: It's smart because in a genre where most films regularly dumb down, Pi rarely does. We get a subway chase, but because of the way it's filmed it doesn't seem cliché.

Vanes: From the use of images and metaphors to the action of star Sean Gullette to the IDM soundtrack, everything was great. It's a movie that analyzes when interest becomes obsession, when genius becomes madness.

Mike: If you aren't interested in math then you won't be out of luck because the film is not really about the numbers, but whether they are the language of life. If you are into math then this is probably the movie for you because Aronofsky has really researched his topic and lets Max take the time to explain what experts are leading him to his hypotheses. Of course, the math makes less and less sense as the movie goes on because the mathematician is more and more mentally afflicted, but that doesn't lessen the value of the movie. It's ironic that Max is so interested in spirals since the line his life is going in pointing down with a steep slope. That said, like in Requiem Aronofsky doesn't rush things. He gives us a good deal of time to know Max before he turns up the heat and intensity.

What makes it so interesting is that Aronofsky takes a topic that's been dealt with in many areas, maddening obsession, but he brings together seemingly unrelated areas from such as computer science, Kabbalism, the stock market, and Go (the game not the vastly overrated movie that died once Sarah Polley was no longer on the screen carrying it) to make his points on it. Maybe if more writers spent 8 months in the woods they too would come up with something original or maybe they'd become overly obsessed.

Vanes: The movie is filmed in black and white from Maximillian Cohen's (Gullette) point of view with close-ups, confusing motion cinematography, fast cuts between scenes, and a grainy and moody environment that becomes overwhelming when Max loses consciousness due to his seizures.

Mike: This film shows that the Aronofsky/Libatique/Mansell combo could make a film like Requiem for a Dream. It's amazing what they were able to do here with a mere $60,000 budget that was mainly scraped up from Aronofsky's friends and relatives. The way the movie builds up, the use of symbols and metaphors, the utilization of the soundtrack, and many of the tricks and techniques that make Requiem so exceptional like the fast motion, kinetic camera movement, and vivid close-ups with condensation editing (like the scenes where Max unlocks his door) are here in lesser although still highly effective form. The technique is a little sparser, but with one caveat it's one of the better creatively technical movies you'll see because everything has to be done realistically since there are no fake graphics and computer effects to fall back on. The sets are pretty lame though. In particular, in a movie where technology is so prevalent you wouldn't expect to still find the clumsy old floppies, but that doesn't stop the crew from bold and original filmmaking. Obviously, the acting is a far cry from Requiem, but Aronofsky gives us a pretty convincing crew of no names, most notably his Harvard friend and collaborator Sean Gullette. The dialogue isn't nearly as good either, although that's partly because Max is an anti-social recluse. It doesn't tell as believable a story, but its consequences are still very real and I'm not sure it tries to. This one is more surreal, using numbers as the backdrop for one man's dizzying odyssey through the inner confines of the mind.

Vanes: These seizures always happen when Max is about to discover Pi, and over the course of the film we're reminded that anyone who tries to understand what Pi is ends up in surrender because of severe mental or physical pain. Max's seizures force him to take the medicine or continue to freak out.

Mike: What was interesting about his "remedies" for the mental torment is how they were metaphorically tied to finding his answer. As with his beloved numbers, he tries everything he can think of, but his problems only get worse as he gets closer and closer to finding his 216 number sequence. It's ironic what he has to do medicine wise to allow himself to find it. Anyway, the more knowledge this mental obsessive gained, the less his head could take. His body kept trying to tell him to stop, but essentially he couldn't because he was addicted to his quest to find truth and perfection, the answer to everything in the world, in a number.

Vanes: The second part of the movie is about discovering that not everything has a pattern, that life is too complicated to understand and we aren't ready OR supposed to try to understand it. **SPOILER** When Sol tells this to Max, he takes his time to understand it. He stops using his medicines and finally puts an end to his obsession by drilling a hole in his head (you'll understand)

Mike: What I took from it is what Max really discovers is that his quest isn't worth it. His life has gone to hell because of what the obsession is doing to him physically and the fact that it's brought all kinds of hate, paranoia, and violence into his life. Aronofsky's point has more power because Max started out as a brilliant mathematician, but has turned into an irrational and primal skinhead who hates everyone around him and responds to them with anger. The information he was in search of would not have made the world a better place. If anything, it would destroy it because most people would exploit it.

Max finally believes he finds the answer when he steps back and spends hours in the daylight like his mentor, Archimedes. I won't say for sure that he has found it because there's always a human element in math proofs that allows you to use numbers and symbols to show your numbers and symbols are correct. Once he finds his answer it's not what he thinks it's going to be, it only allows him to see his life for what it is. We see Max in a world where there's nothing but white because his world is empty, one big void. He now understands that God is devoid of meaning to humans. The things he could have understood like the feeling of a woman's caress (we see a hand in his white world and one on him as soon as he comes out but then it's gone) are things he missed because his only love was numbers (earlier we'd heard sex noises to point out that the computer was his only partner). Unfortunately, he can't reverse the path of destruction, so Aronofsky shows him embracing it as a way to scare us away from it. Max would like to get rid of the knowledge he spent his life trying to achieve, go back to the days when he didn't have to know and try to understand every number and mathematical theory. Now that he's aware of nature, he dreams of being at peace with it and able to relate to humans without having to know the answers. He tries to break away, but discontinuing the math doesn't put an end to the seizures it brought on.

Vanes: In the end, his search is over. He finds Pi, smiles, and stops being obsessed with numbers because he understands what he discovered is not meaningful to him, and relationships with people are more important than ones with numbers. It's really difficult to understand at first, but at the end it's like a jigsaw, everything pieces together and you understand.

Mike: It's difficult because it's an intellectual film. There's so much too it and it forces you to constantly think and interpret. Like you said it's not a film that can't be cracked, but it's one that requires a great deal of attention, some leaps of faith (especially the idea the number would allow for accurate stock price predictions), and probably more than one viewing. It's good enough to watch more than once though, and it's a film you can really learn something from.

Vanes: The soundtrack is great because using IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) is the best way to define the confusion, the amazing amount of images and information that goes into your head while you're having a seizure. People like Autechre are perfect for this kind of music (even though Nobukazu Takemura or Amon Tobin would have been even better). This has to be seen just for the way it's filmed, really impressive.  



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