Darren Aronofsky’s debut feature Pi celebrates its 15th anniversary this year with a refurbed and repackaged Blu-ray release, so it’s the perfect time to revisit everyone’s favourite head-fuck mathematics film.
Following the exploits of paranoid mathematician Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette), the film explores the relationship between math and nature, detailing the vast intricate system of numbers that determine the movements of waves and the growing of natural forms. As Max stumbles upon a system of numbers that may hold the key to breaking this universal equation, his hold on reality begins to slip, plunging him into a hell of dangerous obsession.
Aronofsky’s first film shows many markers of his later exploits: the intensity, internal chaos, and lack of particular interest in definitive narrative all culminate to prove time again that he is indeed a director interested in making films that question human behaviour as well as typical methods of conveying story. The expressionist influences are abound not simply in his high contrast black and white filming and use of shadow and frenetic close up, but also in the narrative and the performance of the film’s lead. Lynchian influences are difficult to disband, but rather than holding back the piece, here they wind into a pre-Requiem tale of misery and addiction.
Gullette shines through as the schizophrenic Max, a character who has built his own disturbing rabbit hole then flung himself in head first. His is the doomed character, the man on the edge asking the questions which are probably left best at rest. It is Gullette’s performance that maintains the viewer’s interest when the second act begins to indulge itself a little too much. As Max becomes caught up in his work Aronofsky does a great, though- eventually- tedious job of relaying true obsessive behaviours. Viewers with a keen interest in Lynch will have no problem following the often nonsensical hallucinatory experience of watching Max’s mind unwind.
Pi is sharp and intense, clever, but perhaps too much for its own good, there are genius moments of grunge sci-fi/thriller and more than a few boring patches that dull the point of an otherwise streamlined example of total visual control. Aronofsky’s Pi plays out like the German expressionist Fight Club: elusive, startling, intense, but utterly bonkers at more than just a few points.
Dir. Darren Aronofsky
Stars. Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Lauren Fox