Pi is a film that completely sums up a certain aesthetic to me. Having a brother seven years my senior, I was introduced to a lot of popular culture at a young age that I otherwise might not have come into contact with. A prime example of that, Pi is fully representative to me of the hazy University bedroom i’d visit at summer, and the beckoning walls of intriguing DVDs and CDs that enthralled me with each jaunt. At that age I really believed the film’s strained mathematics, while utterly missing the philosophical depth within. As I’ve gotten older, that dichotomy has switched – something I consider further proof of the movie’s brilliance.
Extremely low-budget in its production and cinematography, it manages to leap off the screen with a reality quite stark in its tangibility. Following an elusive plot where that reality is then blended with deep personal mysticism, it definitely requires more than one watch to grasp at its full scope. In the debut of director and writer, Darren Aronofsky, we get a richly developed work that makes some fascinating pokes in the direction of divine insight. That’s not too bad of a plot summary either, in a way, but allow me to try to flesh out its drive and events without spoiling their impact.
Our central protagonist, Max Cohen, is an extremely complex man with matching problems. A number theorist of apparently genius intellect, his intense devotion to theories on the stock market are far simpler to him than an ordinary social encounter. Sheltered and marred by the unrelenting shadow of recurring cluster headaches, Cohen would much rather stick to his numbers; not forgetting the occasional game of Go with his aged mentor. After a chance meeting at a coffee shop with Lenny Meyer, a Hasidic Jew, the two begin to share mathematical titbits with one another. Initially bored by Meyer’s constant interruptions, he comes to gain a deep interest in the Torah and how the Hebrew alphabet can be expressed as numbers.
Seeing similarities between this and his own ideas, he begins to study it in an attempt to make sense of a strange, yet somehow premonitory, glitch his computer had encountered days previous. Distracted from his work by a Wall Street firm who use aggression to try to buy his potentially lucrative ideas, things only get more clouded when his headaches get worse, more frequent and start to incorporate disturbing hallucinogenic visions. Finding himself caught between the heavy-handed verve of money and the blind passion of religious fundamentalism (as Meyer and his associates realise Cohen’s worth), our main character seems on the edge of profound discovery. Whether he takes that leap and what the knowledge may mean is, of course, up to you to learn by getting hold of the film some time.
I couldn’t recommend it enough either, as I think it’s one of the few movies to handle themes of such weight in a way they deserve. That’s not to say it’s worthy of universal acclaim either, as there’s no doubt that its humble styling is polarising. Same goes for its philosophical posturing, something you have to suspend a bit of disbelief in and be endeared by to really go along with. If the opening five minutes strikes a tone that resonates with you, however, the chances are that you’re going to enjoy the entire ride. While it shifts momentum a little in the final act, the added alacrity is something that could be seen as jarring or welcome – personally I fall on the side of the latter.
Peppered throughout with a fantastically compiled soundtrack of electronic music, it’s something that only helped it slot into that “older brother” aesthetic even more. Indeed, many of his monolith of CDs were the likes of Autechre, Aphex Twin, Massive Attack and even Roni Size. That’s probably what makes the film feel so warm to me, despite the fact that its approach is deliberately somewhat cold. A difficult watch that rewards patience and thought, it’s something viewers should know isn’t for the faint of mind. With a conclusion that would really rather you filled in the gaps, doesn’t the best of any medium tend to require a bit of effort from the audience to coalesce with that of the visionary? Does that, in the end, make us collaborators?