Saturday, January 22, 2005


Directed by Darren Aronofsky
1998, rated R
5 stars

When people think of black and white, they most likely think back to the days of the playful antics of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. In modern films, black and white footage is typically reserved for dream-like flashback sequences, or odd moments in Quentin Tarantino films. A full-length, modern, black and white film is very rare, and usually regarded as too independent to receive much attention. This is unfortunate, as Darren Aronofsky’s 1998 film Pi is an astonishing piece of artistic and mathematical genius.

Done completely in polarized black and white footage, Pi follows the twisted inner workings of mathematical genius Max Cohen (Sean Gullette). Reclusive, and utterly committed to his daily habits, Max reveals to his audience his quest to find a pattern in the chaotic ups and downs of the stock market. Max also suffers from acute headaches that sometimes result in severe, and frightening, hallucinations. As Max struggles day after day to find a mathematical solution to life’s complicated disorder, he pays regular visits to his ailing teacher and mentor Sol (Mark Margolis). This aged, sage-like mathematician warns Max of the tolls his work may eventually take on his body and psyche. Max, meanwhile, has been receiving pestering calls from the aggressive business shark Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart), who offers him hefty amounts of money and powerful computer components in exchange for the information he believes he can uncover. A chance meeting in a coffee shop also puts Max in contact with Hassidic Jew numerologist Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman), who convinces him to take an interest in the search for a mysterious code hidden in the Torah. As Max reaches new breakthroughs in his research, these characters adopt foreboding, semi-threatening attitudes, though since Max is obviously in a state of mental anguish, it is difficult to distinguish between his perceived paranoia and actual occurrences.

While Max’s quest for a mathematical revelation may not seem overwhelmingly fascinating at first, the compelling mystery of the situation, coupled with the continual questions concerning Max’s mental health eventually suck the audience in. The math is complicated, no doubt, but director Aronofsky goes to great lengths to ensure that every step in the convoluted process is made relatively clear to the audience. The continuous examples of mathematical patterns in nature, coupled with the black and white footage and grungy, real-life settings give the film an aesthetically pleasing artistic air. Despite the lack of color—or perhaps due to it—the audience is forced to pay close attention to every detail and every fact presented. The plot is so enthralling, in fact, that as it progresses the lack of color stimulation is completely forgotten as the audience revels in the enigmatic nature of the film.

A mathematical thriller may not seem the most exciting setting for a film, but Aronofsky works wonders with what he has. With a pitifully low budget, help from his friends, and a lot of hot glue, Aronofsky created a film that stands far above many other such independent films. Awarded the Directors Award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, and gathering numerous other awards from a myriad of other festivals, this film is definitely worthy of consideration and high praise.

Even if you aren’t completely sold by the praise for Pi, it is still worth a look. Only 84 minutes in length, it is not a difficult or time-consuming film to sit through. Mathematicians and scientists, as well as complete laymen, can enjoy this film, as it covers all bases. Mystery buffs, thriller fanatics, or simply anyone wishing to further their mathematical education can find enjoyment in this film. So give it a try before making a judgment—after all, not everything is so black and white.


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