Film Review

Pi (1998)

IMDB link
Running time: 1h 24min
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Darren Aronofsky (story), Sean Gullette (story), Eric Watson (story)
Starring Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman

Darren Aronofsky’s films are generally not casual viewing – his first film, Pi (1998) sets the stage for his career in this regard with its psychotic tone and artistic choices. Pi is a movie which cannot be recommended for everyone, but it is well worth viewing for those interested in psychological thrillers and/or Aronofsky films. The plot of the movie could be summed as thusly: Jewish mathematician Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) discovers a number sequence that unlocks the secrets of the universe while battling with his inner demons. He must also avoid those seeking to steal the sequence and try to distinguish friend from foe. Crazy, right?

I have to admit that I liked Pi more when I first saw it years ago, but it might have something to do with the fact that this time I did not view it alone. Pi is a movie which has very little entertainment value for most – this is not a negative, but it is true – and thusly it will not appeal to the mass audiences. A paranoid nightmare is what Pi could be described as, and the gradual reveals and advancement of the plot with its increasing insanity is what some people can derive enjoyment from. Additionally, some of the scenes are (deliberately, of course) quite off-putting. In my opinion, the film loses some of its power if one already knows what is going to happen, which is weird for a film where the plot really is not the main attraction (I will not reveal much more about the plot details in this review) – this is partly why I was not as impressed with the film on this viewing. Pi is a weird art film, not that I am an expert in the field of weird art films – there are surely much weirder movies out there that I have no clue about.

Max Cohen spends most of his time in this high tech environment – no wonder he goes so crazy

The film is in black and white which, I imagine, might be off-putting for some, but it fits Pi perfectly. Technically, especially considering the shoe-string budget of $60k, the movie is executed very well. Its visual style is quite memorable, which one can tell from the screenshots I chose for this review. The movie was a great success compared to its limited budget, making over $3 million in the box office and surely much more since then. It was also very well received critically, winning awards in film festivals. Aronofsky certainly would not have had the career he did without Pi‘s success, and the world might have missed films such as Requiem for a Dream (2000) or The Wrestler (2008).

Part of what makes Pi interesting is seeing how it fits with the director’s career afterwards, much like watching Reservoir Dogs (1992) or Shallow Grave (1994) for Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle respectively. Darren Aronofsky’s films certainly do have some elements running through them that are already present in Pi, such as the overall depressing tone of struggle and misery with the recurring theme of mental health issues (Black Swan (2010) in addition to Requiem and The Wrestler). The Fountain (2006) I have seen once long ago and found tedious and pretentious, not that I remember much of it, and I have not seen Noah (2014) or Mother! (2017). Overall, it can be said that Aronofsky is one of the more artistic and ambitious filmmakers of Hollywood, along with someone like Wes Anderson – though this comparison really is not that great, as the tone and entertainment “levels” of Wes Anderson films are very different to Aronofsky’s.

Look into do-it-yourself brain surgery if you do not have access to universal healthcare

The acting is mostly good, in my opinion, though for whatever reason it sounds like Mark Margolis’s (The Salamanca from Breaking Bad) character is dubbed over, but apparently this is not the case as I was not able to find anything online about it. Gullette, who I have only seen in this film, is able to portray the paranoia of Max Cohen convincingly, which is important as so much of the film focuses on its main character. The plot of the film is absurd, of course, but that can be excused by the mental illness exhibited by Cohen, so it does not matter – realism is not something one should expect from Pi. I must say that the idea of Pi is better than the execution, which mostly just throws in brief summaries of history and theory (e.g. a story about Pythagoras or some other famous figure of mathematics) to give the number sequence some credibility in a mystic or divine way and then rapidly moves on. To keep the film moving (and due to the medium itself) this is understandable, though – my criticism of this aspect of the film is that at times it just feels too superficial to achieve the level of deepness it seems to be going for. But that is a minor, subjective flaw, and since the whole thing can (and probably should) be interpreted as Cohen’s insanity, it does not really matter how much the number sequence story is given justification or explanation.

The bigger the beard the mightier the man

Pi will not appeal to those looking to relax and turn their brains off for the duration of the film. In its genre it is quite good, however, and worth checking out. For me at least, however, it is not really rewatchable, much like Requiem for a Dream. Depending on personal tastes I can see people rating Pi anywhere from 2 to 10.

Rating: 7.0 / 10

Times I had seen this film prior to this viewing: 1

Would I want to rewatch this film? Not anytime soon, but possibly at some point in time.

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