Recommended Viewing Situation:
On a park bench, staring at the sun.
Running Time: 84 minutes.
Format: 16mm black and white film on Aaton XTR Prod, Canon and Angenieux Lenses, and Bolex H16.
Director: Darren Aronofsky.
Writer: Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette and Eric Watson.
Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique.
Awards: Directing Award at Sundance Film Festival 1998 and more.
For a real American surrealist classic that isn’t David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), Darren Aronofsky’s directorial debut, Pi (1998) is imperative; imagine the absolute collapse of your logical mind happening in downtown New York. A staple of the cinematic canon, Pi (written by Aronofsky, Sean Gullette and Eric Watson) is the disturbing and anxiety-inducing tale of Max Cohen, an extraordinary mathematician whose persisting headaches and hallucinatory episodes threaten his very grip on reality. During one of his routine forays into the cyber world with his computer, Euclid, Max discovers an incredible 216-digit number that can manipulate the stock markets. As a consequence, he finds himself a person of interest to government officials and religious fanatics alike.
Sean Gullette (Requiem for a Dream 2000) as Maximilian Cohen is simply brilliant; he is an entirely believable loner and computing genius all rolled into one unassuming man living in a dilapidated Chinatown apartment. The exquisite use of depth, contrast and grainy black and white aesthetic only adds to the film’s dizzying journey, and is symptomatic of the incredible cinematographer, Matthew Libatique (Requiem for a Dream 2000, Black Swan 2010). Aronofsky’s direction is commanding, giving us only want he wants us to see and no more. As a consequence of all of this, this film is about as claustrophobic as it gets, almost as much so as Son of Saul (2016). It’s a constant struggle to find an answer to something you might have missed, a constant pressure headache, or one prolonged yet thrilling night sweat. The film even features a young Mark Margolis (Breaking Bad 2009-2011) as Sol Robeson, Max’s only confidant and mathematics mentor, whose performance is as shattering as the movie’s events are. Pi is truly a thinker. It deals with mysticism, religion and mental health in urban environments in equal measure. Casting a rightfully damning eye on religion and contemporary mega metropolises, Max’s deterioration highlights how damaging the ideologies of the modern day can be. This of course makes our protagonist a strangely relatable character, which might just be the scariest thing of all in the context of the film.
Consider Max. He is an unreliable narrator par-excellence, perhaps not the subtlest (plagued with blackouts and psychotic episodes), but a shining example of this trope in action. At the same time, Max is a rudimentary and logical being, where everything – numbers, nature and humanity – can be contained within a pattern. It seems a terrible irony that the regularity he searches for makes him appear more erratic. Max’s inability to reconcile the dichotomy between his cold numerical world and the fallible human one is reflective of modern living; as we are expected to become more and more like devices, mechanised parts of an automated whole, humanity is unable to accept its own infirmity. Max becomes a victim of totalising belief systems in increasingly isolated urban landscapes. This film is as relevant now as it was when it was released.