Pi (USA, 1997)


 Tortured genius seeks the meaning and structure of everything through mathematical formulae.

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Starring: Sean Gullette, Marl Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Samia Shoaib

Screenplay: Aronofsky/Gullette/Eric Watson


π is a pretty tortuous affair, but a film of great promise.

Gullette plays Max Cohen, a mathematician whose early exposure to the blinding powers of looking straight into the sun has (paradoxically) opened his eyes to the doors of perception.

Max’s theory is that mathematics holds the key to the door, and everything can be reduced to, and understood by, mathematical analysis and formulae. Max uses his gifts to try to decipher the principles behind the uncertainty of the stock market and to make himself rich in the process.

Max’s gifts are sought by shady big business (predictable, but it makes a change from the military) and an extreme, devout Kabbalah sect who believe that Max has unlocked the code for a definitive explanation of the most important message in the Torah (can’t give that one away without ruining the plot).

Max’s suffering is caused by neurological and existential concerns as well as the pressures put on him by the various factions fighting for the dangerous secret inside his head. There are various references to the Garden of Eden and to Max being Icarus (Margolis, his mentor, is called ‘Sol’) in the film and it is as though pride and the seeking of forbidden knowledge have destroyed Max’s earthly happiness. Few in the history of film have suffered as much as Max Cohen. Apart from perhaps Peggy Ann Garner in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

An ‘immature’ work in many respects; brilliant at times, but not quite the finished article. The high contrast black and white visuals are almost unique for a full length feature and the film’s literate script is brimming with all sorts of good ideas. There are elements of Lynch in the visuals, but generally, this is a wholly original film with a great score from Clint Mansell and added extras from Massive Attack and Aphex Twin.

Although I’m nowhere near as good at sums as Max, I can identify with that permanent, pained, suffering expression which often prompts the less sensitive to guide me into a more positive worldview with comments such as “Just cheer up for fuck’s sake!”

It never fails.