Troubled mathematical genius, Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette) is on the brink of what he believes could be a major discovery; a numerical key to formulate a pattern from seemingly random occurrences. His intention is to apply his findings to the stockmarket but some Jewish fanatics have other ideas.
Many people will by now be familiar with the work of talented director Darren Aronofsky via the stylised but honest drug film, Requiem for a Dream, which has gathered steady acclaim through word of mouth since its release in 2000. Less well known is his first feature length film, Pi, released 2 years earlier. Though less polished and well rounded than Requiem, Pi is an incredible first feature showing Aronofsky’s great talent for presenting an insular nightmare which is expanded to even greater effect in the later and better known film. At a mere 80 minutes and coming in on a borrowed budget of just $60,000, Pi won the Directors award at Sundance in the year of its release and heralded the move from promising student to world-renowned talent.
“When I was a little kid, my mother told me not to stare into the sun, so once when I was six I did.” So says Max as we see him unconscious on the floor with a bloody nose, the result of one of his frequent and debilitating migraines. It is unclear as to whether such brilliance was the cause of such brilliance but the relationship between nature and mathematics is one which fascinates our protagonist, believing as he does that everything in nature can be explained through numbers, that nothing is random.
Under the watchful supervision of mentor Sol (Mark Margolis) Max is on a mission to unlock a numerical key which he believes could help him crack the stockmarket. With an almost monstrous computer spread around the room, he obsessively eyes the figure of the market in line with his predictions. However, the content of his head is a much desired thing and he is pursued threateningly by Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart) and not so threateningly, at least to begin with, by Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman,) each for their own ends. Marcy is similarly interested in the stockmarket angle but Lenny's need is devoutly based in his religious faith, Kabbalah.
Filmed in scratchy, grainy, high-contrast black and white with a drum and bass soundtrack and ominous score, Pi is audibly and visually like an intellectual nightmare, which is, in effect, just what it is. Though it has roots in the thriller genre as he is oppressively tracked by Marcy and increasingly so by Lenny, it is his inner turmoil, his agony and the weight of knowing something so huge that is really the subject of this film. It is his obsession with a 216 digit number which may ‘just be a number’ or may be the answer to literally everything; the stockmarket, computer ‘consciousness’ or, as Lenny believes, the name of God in numerical form. It is the latter which fuses perfectly the idea of nature and chaos as opposed to structured predictability as Max, a non-practicing Jew, is forced to reassess his ‘faith in chaos.’
With a fascinating and increasingly and frighteningly plausible plot, inspired and nightmarish visuals, Darren Aronofsky's glimpse into the psyche of a genious is both style and content.