π = Infinite Madness
"One: Mathematics is the language of nature.
Two: Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers.
Three: If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge. Therefore, there are patterns everywhere in nature." --Max Cohen
Math is a polarizing subject. People either hate it, or love it, and then there are some that really, really… REALLY love math. That is the case of Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), the main character in Darren Aronofsky’s quirky debut film, Pi.
Cohen is a mathematician who lives by the motto quoted above. He thinks everything in the world can be explained by numbers. His impressive skills with arithmetic, combined with his paranoia and social anxiety disorder, lead him to live a mostly secluded life, plagued by frequent headaches. He spends most of his time bunkered in his small apartment while crunching numbers in his computer trying to guess stock picks. He rarely goes out, and his few social interactions are with a young girl in his building that keeps asking him math questions, a pretty neighbor that flirts with him, and most notably with his math mentor, Sol Robeson (Mark Margolis).
Things change for Max as he is sought out by Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman), a Jew who shares Cohen's interest for arithmetic and uses it in his research of the Torah, and Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart), the representative of a Wall Street firm who wants to use Cohen’s skills to predict the stock market. Although he seems to sympathize to some degree with both causes at first, being drawn by Lenny’s similar interests and Dawson’s offer of a powerful computer chip, he steers away in his own path, obsessed by the continuous presence of the number 216 in his research.
As a result, Pi becomes the chronicle of one man’s descent into madness, driven by obsession. Despite the insistence of his mentor, Robeson, to quit his research, Max keeps going led by his curiosity and the need for answers. The film actually opens with a line where Max ignored his mother's advice not to stare directly into the sun, which he thinks might be the cause of his frequent chronic headaches. Decades later, Max still behaves like a modern day Icarus, ignoring his "father's" advice and keeps looking for answers, trying to go higher and higher, even if it costs him his life or sanity.
To be honest, I wasn't expecting much more than a quirky, curious film, but I was surprised by how engaging and intriguing this was. Sean Gullette had a pretty good performance as Max, but it is Aronofsky's kinetic, fast-paced direction what sells the film. With clever use of cameras, lights, and editing, Aronofsky manages to put us in Max' shoes, feeling perhaps as intrigued, and at the same time, as lost as he is.
July 10, 1998
Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette, Eric Watson
Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman
If anything, I might have some issues with the film's very ending. But regardless of that, I thought it was a great debut from Aronofsky, which would give you an idea of where he might be headed in his career. As it stands, most of his future films deal with obsession, one way or the other. Max' journey is indeed one of obsession, but it is also one of a man finding peace not in religion, or money, or in his beloved math, but on being able to release his own "demons", even if the method is infinite madness itself. Grade: B+
Pi Trailer (1998)
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