Pi (1998) is the directorial debut by Darren Aronofsky, famously known for his psychological thriller, the Black Swan. The movie brings about a theme which courses through gradual mental deterioration of a person obsessed with his work and a projection which he considers a pinnacle in the field.
The protagonist, Maximillan Cohen, played by Sean Gullette , a prodigious mathematician, is a number theorist and also picks stocks on the stock market. He is plagued by cluster headaches, paranoia, and remains asocial for the bulk of the movie, except for brief encounters with his neighbour, a Chinese girl who frequently asks him long arithmetical questions, and his mentor, Sol Robeson (Mark Margolis).
Through a chance encounter at a coffee shop, Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman), also a mathematician, intrigues Max by showing him patterns in the Torah replicating the golden ratio, phi (although he incorrectly mentions it as theta). This leads to him obsessing over a 216-digit number related to the aforementioned patterns, which he thinks can help him unearth the underlying pattern which he believes to be in all aspects of the world, whether it be the stock market or the Torah, or nature itself.
All this also leads to a Wall Street firm getting to know about his research and one of its representatives constantly pesters him to meet which he doggedly denies. They do have certain leverage, however, giving him an apparatus that can help unearth the number from his computer, Euclid, in return for the results, which forces him to get entrapped in the bizarre world of financial mayhem.
Entwined between all this, Max experiences maddening cluster headaches. These scenes are brilliantly shot using chestcam . The seemingly revolving cameras, along with the fact that Pi is shot in grisly black and white, intensifies the whole atmosphere of this movie.
Nevertheless, he continues on his pursuit of the number, which, he thinks can bring about the pattern of the world, much like a General Unified Theory. This comes in contrary with what his mentor who urges him to slow his pace. Sol had encountered this number many years ago with strong foreshadowing and tells him to stop being obsessed over it. The prophetic words do come true and what follows is an interesting turn of events which leads to an equally interesting end.
The film mainly concerns the tireless pursuit of a genius to his goal, albeit a hopeless one to a certain extent, thanks to the constraints of certain facets of society, which in this case are the religious, seeking salvation, and the superficial, seeking money. The strong psychological themes veining through Pi portray the detrimental effects of such a goal. The barriers offered by society also prove to be a theme, as they severely impair a professional’s ability to reach a goal far greater than their own petty, individualistic goals.
The cinematic techniques are quite remarkable for a film on a shoestring budget, and the film’s aim to bring about its message is effective. However, factual errors do reduce its entertainment, such as the erroneous representation of the golden ratio as theta, and few others that can make an attentive viewer cringe. The fractured scenes also lead to lack of comprehensibility as it is difficult to discern between Max’s hallucinations and reality and the continual time shifts, leading to a certain ambiguity in what the plot is about.,
Pi turned out to be a successful directorial debut for Aronofsky. The movie explores the psyche of a prodigious brain, a unique insight which puts geniuses into different light, and shares parallels with the movie “A Beautiful Mind”. The themes are put across strongly, and for people wanting a break from popular flicks, as well as something to make your brain tick, Pi is a good place to start.
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