Cinophile: Pi

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Mathematics is the language of the universe. So what happens if you stumble upon the numbers that can explain everything? You don’t need a maths degree to watch Pi – in fact, if you did you’d probably get annoyed. Instead this is about obsession, power and insanity. Those are common themes in Darren Aronofsky’s work: Requiem For a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, Black Swan and Noah were all about characters obsessed with something and seeing this slowly destroy them.

Pi‘s spiral of self-destruction focuses around Max, a mathematics genius who, with the help of a special computer he built in his apartment, is trying to crack the stock market. He believes there exists an equation or series of numbers that can let you manipulate, perhaps even control, the world of Wall Street. Max is not alone in believing this – a stock broker firm is trying hard to get his research. So is a religious Jewish sect, convinced that his research can reveal the true name of God.

But Max has his own problems, namely incredible headaches that can render him unconscious. And as he closes in on this powerful sequence of 216 numbers, he starts to hallucinate. Or maybe they are visions. Perhaps he is simply going mad. Yet his obsession leads Max to ignore these as the lure for the numbers grows stronger – especially when his machine dies in a massive crash, but not before producing a section of the number set.

Pi is not a movie about maths. Astute viewers will notice that the famous number sequence of pi has little to do with the movie’s story. Instead the script simply blends familiar popular mathematical ideas – ‘cocktail party maths’ as Aranofsky called it – to create a compelling story. Most of Max’s quest revolves around vague or speculated ideas like the Golden Ratio or Chaos patterns. But none of that is really important.

The movie is instead about Max’s obsession and the power-crazy people who want his work. It starts as a cerebral thriller, but morphs into a peculiar bit of science fiction and ultimately a study of how the quest for meaning can lead to madness or corruption. Shot in high-contrast black-and-white, Pi often uses strange camera angles or quick cuts of stock footage to jar the viewer. Focusing only on Max, you soon become a part of his world and the insanity that comes with hunting this strange series of numbers.

This clever mix of loose science and pop psychology has made Pi one of those films where everyone can have a different idea about its meaning. It has even found a home among conspiracy theorists, who are convinced the themes are about shadow governments, ultimate knowledge and finding the truth.

This isn’t the case, but it shows how Pi that remarkable and intense kind of film that tells different things to different people. Aronofsky said it’s mainly about Icarus, Prometheus or Faust – people who sought the power of the gods/universe or flew too close to the sun and paid the price for it.

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Pi‘s soundtrack was largely created by Clint Mansell, who would also produce the haunting songs of Requiem For A Dream. This kinetic electro drum-and-bass assault fits perfectly with the film’s intense visual style and pace. Pi was inspired by Tetsuo, Eraserhead and the Sin City comics.
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The movie was shot on a mere $60,000, which Aronofsky and his friends collected by getting $100 investments from friends and family. Pi was a success and paid $150 profit for every $100. To save cash no film permits were applied for – instead the crew always had a lookout looking for the police.
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The technology in Pi is completely unrealistic, but that was done so by design. It all looks like the constructs of a mad genius in an alternative universe, helping the film feel as fresh and relevant even 16 years after its release. If you are going to shout 'That's not a real computer chip!', you've missed the point of this movie.
The technology in Pi is completely unrealistic, but that was done so by design. It all looks like the constructs of a mad genius in an alternative universe, helping the film feel as fresh and relevant even 16 years after its release. If you are going to shout ‘That’s not a real computer chip!’, you’ve missed the point of this movie.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

 

 

Last Updated: July 28, 2014

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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