Pi

Pi

*****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Darren Aronofsky's searingly brilliant feature debut may not have gained a wide audience upon release, and it's certainly put a lot of people off his work since, but it marked him out as an unusual and very probably unstoppable new talent. It was one of the most intelligent films of the Nineties and its distinctive style and edgy intellectual content mean it's unlikely ever to go out of date.

If you're not very good with numbers, don't worry. Though the hero of this film is obsessed with them, they're really just a tool whose use you don't need to be able to understand to follow his journey. He is Maximillian Cohen, a sort of freelance mathematician building Beowulf clusters in his decaying apartment, with everything else in his life just a servant of his obsession.

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Max is interested in patterns, and he sees them everywhere. In the way plants are structured. In classic strategy games like go. In the stock market. In the ancient Hebrew language. He's trying to understand them, to find out what lies beneath, a sort of mathematical unified field theory. But the effort of doing so is causing him increasingly severe headaches, the pain making it hard to think, and it's driving him to the edge of madness. What's more, other people have started to take an interest in his work. Some are eager to exploit him for financial gain. Others hope or fear that his search will lead to the discovery of the true name of God.

Aronofsky is fully immersed in his subject and Pi takes on number and pattern related theories of all kinds, from cultures both ancient and modern. It provides a historical tour of the human relationship with maths whilst cataloguing one man's disintegration - or ascension. Frenetic camerawork enables even the least educated viewer to engage with Max's mindset. Grainy black and white imagery and shifting patterns of light and shadow work well in adding to the element of suspense, and there's an increasingly aggressive techno soundtrack reminding us that music, too, is a form of mathematical expression.

Pi is a superbly inventive thriller, but it doesn't neglect the human element, supporting characters giving us glimpses into other aspects of Max's world, the affection that others clearly feel for him making it easier to care about his plight. Despite his genius he has a desperately vulnerable streak and the purity of his focus places him in still greater danger, as he is less and less able to relate to the ideas of those who threaten him. He is also clearly very lonely, with no one else able to understand what he's doing - except, perhaps, God.

Many viewers sadly find that Pi gives them the same kind of headache suffered by its hero. But if you want intellectual stimulation, you'll find few films as rewarding as this. It'll haunt you for a long time afterwards, and you'll never think of numbers the same way again.

Reviewed on: 15 Jun 2009
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Pi packshot
A mathematician searches for a code which could explain the universe, but his research attracts some unsavoury interest.
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Director: Darren Aronofsky

Writer: Darren Aronofsky, based on his own short story.

Starring: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Pamela Hart, Stephen Pearlman, Samia Shoaib, Ajay Naidu, Kristyn Mae-Anne Lao, Espher Lao Nieves, Joanne Gordon, Lauren Fox, Stanley B. Herman, Clint Mansell, Tom Tumminello, Henri Falconi

Year: 1998

Runtime: 84 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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