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Movies E.C. McMullen Jr. Review by
E.C. McMullen Jr.
Pi
SHOULD YOU?
TIP JAR
Pi - 1998
USA Release: July 10, 1998
Artisian Pictures / Lions Gate
Rated: USA: PG-13

I adore movies like this.

Not because it is shot in black and white (I labor under no such ridiculous snobberies). But because of its subject matter, and the way it handles that subject matter. It is not neccessary that bizzare horror be shot in black and white. David Lynch did just as well with LOST HIGHWAY as he did with ERASERHEAD. Pi has been compared to ERASERHEAD, but the resemblance is minimal. Take away the fact that they are both shot in black and white (a sharp, high contrast, oxide grainy black and white for Pi), and you have little to no resemblance at all. Enough comparative views between the two.

Pi PosterPi is a far more intelligent film. Not simply because of its subject matter; it would have been easy enough to throw out a load of technobabble and gizmos to try and come across as intelligent.

Pi is the real deal.

The protagonist is Max Cohen (actor/ writer/ website designer: Sean Gullette). He belongs to that rare breed of human who is obsessed with numbers. We are not talking about the Feynmans and Hawkings of the world; but a purer breed; and no idiot savants here either. So consumed are these number crunchers with their passion, attempting to explain the Universe in mathematical terms, that they exclude all else. Little human contact, poor diet, and a tendency to powerful headaches.

In Max's case it all began when, as a child, he stared at the sun for too long. He went blind. His eyesight eventually returned, but left him color blind. Without color in his world, his logic became black and white, and began the obsessive-compulsive craving for calculations. We watch the movie through Max's eyes.

Among such great mathemeticians is the belief that somehow, someway, you can find mathematical patterns, definite number series within everything.

Everything

Every organic and non-organic form and beyond. You can predict random circumstances because, according to this way of thinking, nothing happens by random chance. Chaos is only perceived through misconception.

Up to a point, these human calculators are correct: but there are no simple formulas for calculating multiple interactions in a time and space frame, no unique "code".

Such calculations are staggering.

Max's Home Computer
Max's home computer: He turned his home into a computer and lives in it.

The path Max has chosen for himself is an obvious dead end. Max believes that he can discover the formula, or numerical "key" that will unravel the mystery of the stock market. Once he is able to accurately predict the fluctuations of the entire stock market, then he can predict the universe. The stock market is his acid test. He chose this arena because the stock market deals in calculations created by humans. Figure out the organic interactive calculations of humanity within their defined quality of profit producing, thinking state, and you will discover, behind that thinking, the engine which drives us all and everything.

Or so Max believes.

The failure in this, of course, is that he is trying to understand humanity by looking only at its foot prints. Like the fable of the blind men who each feel a different part of the elephant, Max can come up with one small truth that will not fit into the framework of the whole picture. In Max's case, he purposefully blinds himself to the big picture by trying to maintain total solitude in order to dedicate himself to his task. He refuses to interact with the humanity he attempts to understand.

In the apartment building where Max lives are people that are interested in him, like his neighbor Devi (Samia Shoaib: THE SIXTH SENSE), want to engage him and welcome him into their lives.

He fears them. They take him away from his work. He is trying to find the key to life while isolating himself from it. Like anthropologists who will only study books; never to dirty their hands in the field.

*
"The engine by which the entire universe is run?"
We already discovered it. In fact, it was discovered back in 1666 by Isaac Newton.

The engine by which the entire universe is run is called Gravity.

However, we've only identified it. We don't know how or why it works.

TRIVIA
Fascinating, but not without its...
FactualErrors.

The only human interaction he has is with his former Math Professor Sol (Mark Margolis: SCARFACE, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: The Movie, THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM). "A man," Max claims, "Who nearly made it."
By "making it" Max means that his former teacher nearly discovered the secret number, the Key to the door or engine by which the entire universe is run*.

Max's genius with numbers is not lost behind a bushel. A mysterious corporation represented by a woman named Marcy Darcman (Pamela Hart), has people spying on him. They practically force him to cooperate with their schemes. They know that someday the market will crash and they believe Max may be able to predict when. In addition to Max's mind he has also created a home-made supercomputer that he named after the famous Mathematician, Euclid.

What's more, a pushy hasidic Jew named Lenny (Ben Shenkman) is trying to garner Max's interest in the Hebrew lettering system. All Hebrew letters, in addition to spelling words, also have a numerical value. A very specific cult of Hasidic Jews believe that there are 216 numbers which, when properly pronounced, is the name of God. They too, believe Max can reveal the answer to their quest.

As these two forces combine with Max's obsessions, his screamingly severe migranes begin to close in on him. Max is losing his mind. The closer he gets to solving his riddle, the more intense the pain becomes, until he is lost in a world of pain and paranoia.

Does your brain hurt yet?

This is no cheesy psycho-killer-hacking-teenagers flick. This is deep seated horror that goes right into the very core of you. The fact that someone was able to make a movie like this: that chiefly consists of watching numbers being written on paper or moving across a computer while listening to Max's inner monologue explain his compulsion to think, think, think; and make it fiercly entertaining, is a monumental achievement.

Kudos go to Writer/Director Darren Aronofsky (Pi is his feature film debut) for making us understand the excitement and tension in what could have been a numbingly dry subject. Also attaboys to first time feature film writer/producer Eric Watson. A movie like this could have easily got lost among the direct-to-video bins, instead of winning awards at the Sundance Film Festival. Mathew Labatique (Director of Photography: Director for Tupac Shakur and Bootsy Collins music videos) gave us the nerve wracking, high wire tension throughout the film with his use of lighting and camera angles.

Slinky
Are You Pondering What I'M Pondering?

Make no mistake, this movie is weird and requires a thoughtful mind from the viewer. If movies like BLADE RUNNER, BRAZIL, JACOB'S LADDER, Fresh, and DARK CITY is your meat, then you are ready for Pi. This movie well deserves its 4 ShriekGirls.

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 1999 E.C.McMullen Jr.

Pi (1998) on IMDb

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