Combustible Celluloid Review - Pi (1998), Darren Aronofsky, based on a story by Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette, Eric Watson, Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Pamela Hart, Stephen Pearlman, Samia Shoaib
Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
With: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Pamela Hart, Stephen Pearlman, Samia Shoaib
Written by: Darren Aronofsky, based on a story by Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette, Eric Watson
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
MPAA Rating: R for language and some disturbing images
Running Time: 84
Date: 12/31/1997

Pi (1998)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Vicious Circle

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's a good time for sci-fi movies. Many of today's sci-fi movies are based on ideas rather than special effects. We had a twenty year run of special effects movies, and now filmmakers are getting tired of that and coming up with stories again. Look at Gattaca, Dark City, The X-Files and even The Truman Show for proof. Add to that list a small, shoestring budget ($60,000) film from New York by way of Sundance.

The name of the film is Pi (a.k.a. π), a mathematical figure that helps calculate the area and circumference of a circle. Pi is the result of the division of a circle's circumference by its diameter. The number begins with 3.14, but it continues into infinity, supposedly without ever repeating a pattern. This small mystery has baffled great minds for generations. The writer and director of the film, Darren Aronofsky, became fascinated by this world of logic, and decided to make a film along these lines.

Pi tells the story of Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), a mathematician who believes that nature is made up of mathematics, and that mathematics contains patterns. His goal is to try and find a pattern in the stock market. This, of course, could net Max a lot of money and screw up the world market at the same time. Some Wall Street types in business suits show up to keep control of Max and the situation. Meanwhile, Max meets Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenman), a Hasidic Jew who is also a mathematician, but of a different sort. He explains to Max that the Torah is also made up of numbers, and that he's trying to find the pattern in it. He knows that the pattern is 216 characters long. Max visits his former professor, Sol (Mark Margolis), who had been trying to find the pattern in "pi" before he had a stroke and gave up. Sol also mentions the number 216. As Max gets closer and closer to the answer, more and more people begin meddling with him.

On top of everything else, Max gets screeching, flashing headaches that cause him to hallucinate and pass out. These sequences are frightening, unpleasant, and very effective. You can almost feel the pain.

The film is shot in very harsh, gritty, bleak, grainy black-and-white 16mm. Pi looks like a student film, but it's the absolute belief and trust by everyone involved that pull this film off and make it seem professional. The actors are all very capable, and give natural performances. The editing is sharp, and the camerawork makes claustrophobic angles work. My only complaint is that it is difficult to see the elaborate computer setup in Max's room, where we spend most of the film, clearly. In fact, the whole film in general may be too grainy for most people's tastes.

When the plot sticks with the math, its genuinely exciting and interesting, but when we go to Max's headaches and hallucinations, we get into some seemingly gratuitous nightmare imagery (brains, blood, tumors, etc.) that will turn some people off. Still, the film moves fast (it's 85 minutes long), and I think it's destined to pick up a cult following of people who are tired of the same old thing.

Movies Unlimtied