1998, black and white, Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky, debut film, fibonacci sequence, golden ration, Hasidic Judaism, independent film, low budget, mandelbrot set, mathematics, nature, obsession, paranoia, patterns, Pi, Requiem for a Dream, science, science fiction, stock market, The Fountain, The Wrestler, thriller, Torah, universe
Written and Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Sean Gullette, Ben Shenkman, Mark Margolis, Samia Shoaib, Pamela Hart
If you talk to even the most casual film buff long enough, Darren Aronofsky’s Pi is sure to come up. For a relatively weird and oblique art film, Pi seems to be not just a favorite among cinephiles but a film that resonates with film audiences at large. It was, then, with equal parts curiosity and resignation that I finally sat down to watch the film for the first time.
At its most basic, Pi tells the story of Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette), a self-medicating recluse and a genius mathematician who suffers from headaches, paranoia and hallucinations. His work involves scanning the stock market for mathematical patterns and after an unsolicited encounter with Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman) a Hasidic Jew who studies the Torah from a mathematical stand point, Max becomes obsessed with a legendary number meant to be the true, unpronounceable name of God. Already consumed with number patterns such as the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci Sequence, Max’s new obsession takes control of him and begins to wreak havoc on his mental stability and he slips down that rabbit hole available only to the most paranoid obsessives.
This, Aronofsky’s first feature film, involves many of the things which have become trademarks in his career. A protagonist who is an expert in a very specific field who has become driven to the point of obsession is a feature of almost every one of Aronofsky’s films, most notably The Wrestler and Black Swan. An editing style used in Pi, one of quick, agitated edits and amplified sound detail works here to suggest Max’s growing paranoia, and are used by Araonosky to even greater effect in his next film Requiem for a Dream. Here Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique use the restraints of low budget film making to his advantage, blowing out the whites slightly, but enough to suggest the emotional stress that Max is under.
Overall Pi is a conceptually impressive and visually successful film, but one that certainly feels like a first film. In terms of structure Pi is somewhat unformed, but regardless it is a conceptual feast. Aronofsky composes an incredibly specific vision on the subject of mathematics, and succeeds in making it entirely absorbing.