A paranoid mathematician plus a nefarious stockbroker plus Hassidic
mystics (Kabbalists) equals one of the most original films of the year, PI. If
you've forgotten your Euclidean geometry, pi (the 16th letter of the Greek
alphabet) is a transcendental number that represents the ratio of the
circumference of a circle to its diameter. (Usually, it's reduced to 3.14 but in
actuality it is an infinite number— 3.14159265….)
Darren Aronofsky's film PI is, in its own way, a transcendental experience.
A sci-fi thriller, it is beautifully shot on black-and-white reversal film stock by
Matthew Libatique, with a driving electronica score composed by Clint Mansell,
the film is both a visual and aural treat. Aronofsky has mined influences as
varied as Buñuel and Welles to James Whale and David Cronenberg to fashion
The storyline was developed with the leading actor Sean Gullette and
producer Eric Watson and is an amalgam of fascinating and incongruous pieces.
The central figure is Maximillian Cohen (played by Gullette), a highly intelligent
but deeply troubled math genius. Max once defied his mother and look directly
at the sun — finding a moment of sheer mystical exultation that he has sought
to rediscover in his work.
After temporary blindness, he was left plagued by migraines that strike
at random. Max has holed up in an apartment in Chinatown where he has
jerry-built his own computer (aptly named Euclid) on which he tests his
theories. Believing that the stock market is actually "a natural organism"
and that patterns can be found in its natural chaos, Max practically drives
himself to the brink of madness. In weekly meetings with a mentor,
another mathematician who suffered a stroke while attempting a similar
discovery, he tests his ideas over games of Go.
Cohen's work has caught the attention of a renegade Wall Street
denizen who offers Max an experimental microchip. He also meets an
Hassidic scholar who begins to explain his beliefs in Kabbalistic tradition
— that the Torah holds the key to creation and by Gammantria (using
mathematics) one can unlock its secrets. Max's natural paranoia (captured
by Aronofsky in a series of striking images, particularly in the NYC subway
system) eventually proves to be more real than he could have imagined.
The stockbroker wants his knowledge of the market while the Kabbalists
are certain he holds the number that represents the name of God. The final,
ambiguous denouement perfectly caps the film.
PI received the Director's Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival
and heralds the arrival of a strong new voice in the world of independent
filmmaking. This is clearly a director's film and Aronofsky creates a tense,
moody world. The only quibble may be the repetitive use of some sequences
showing Max's use of medication to quell his migraines, but overall, this is a
fascinating and well-crafted piece, both original in concept and striking in
execution. Because the film gets inside the head of Maximillian Cohen, only
Sean Gullette is given full rein to develop as a screen presence. The other
characters are filtered through Cohen's perspective and Mark Margolis as his
aged mentor, Ben Shenkman as the Hassidim and Pamela Hart as the
stockbroker acquit themselves. But Gullette, with his high forehead and
haunted eyes cuts an indelible figure. If only high school geometry had been
half as fun as this.
MPAA Rating: R for language and some disturbing images
Running time: 84 mins.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.