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Jun 22, 2013The 15th anniversary edition of Pi is being released, and as an admirer of the film, Black Swan, I finally availed myself of the opportunity to see a movie that has to be termed Early Aronofsky. Filmed in black and white, it is the confusing and excessive story of a mathematician who has stumbled upon a data stream of 216 numbers that is a secret code coveted by both greedy Wall StreetThe 15th anniversary edition of Pi is being released, and as an admirer of the film, Black Swan, I finally availed myself of the opportunity to see a movie that has to be termed Early Aronofsky. Filmed in black and white, it is the confusing and excessive story of a mathematician who has stumbled upon a data stream of 216 numbers that is a secret code coveted by both greedy Wall Street moguls and religious Hasids. In an eerie and perhaps brilliant precognition of the kind of vice and avarice that would overwhelm Wall Street ten years later, the financial fiends believe the number will give them control of the stock market. The Hasidim believe the number is the pattern they have been searching for in the Torah, which will give them the true name of God and somehow restore the Temple and the ancient glory of Judaism. The mechanism for how this is supposed to work is unclear, but Max Cohen, the mathematician played by Sean Gullette, is being followed and harassed by all parties because of his intellect and his innate ability to decipher this code.
As a child, Max's brain was affected by an incident where he almost blinded himself by staring into the sun, and the trauma turned him into a mathematical and computer genius. Aronofsky's 1998 vision of a computer genius was already outdated as we see Max sitting in an apartment with an enormous home-built computer that takes up the entire apartment. At that time, personal computers with their small CPU chips were not only in widespread use, they were much more powerful than any home-built computer could ever hope to be. The first programmable computer, called ENIAC, which was built in the 1940's, filled an entire room, weighed thirty tons, and contained 18,000 vacuum tubes--and ENIAC was much less powerful than a typical personal computer. So a computer genius in 1998 would have been very happy to have an IBM PC sitting on his desk in his small apartment. It would have been all he needed.
The Kabbalah behind the story is also a little weak. The 216-letter name of God is one of several that are considered to be the true name, the most famous one being the four Hebrew letters of the Tetragrammaton--yod, hey, vav, hey, or YHVH in English, and rendered erroneously as “Jehovah” by Christians. The name is not supposed to be spoken; thus, the original, ancient pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton has been lost and no one knows how to say it. The 216-letter name referred to in the film is actually the 72 names of God, all of them consisting of three letters (therefore adding up to 216), and all of them well documented and well known to the Hasidim.
The film is a psychological thriller with nerve-wracking music as Max races to find this 216-number data string. It causes him migraine headaches, paranoia, over-the-top agitation and distress, and too many times Max is screaming, passing out in his apartment, and waking up with a nosebleed. When he leaves his apartment, he is often being chased by the people who want the number, and the camera work is so dizzying that the viewer ends up getting vertigo. The denouement is not very satisfying--some intrigue is built up in the plot device of a numerical pattern that could control the stock market or restore the Jews to a messianic age, but in the end, the tortured Max drills a hole in his brain, which should have killed him, but fiction being what it is, instead just takes away the mathematical talent that makes him a hunted man. After performing this operation in his bathroom, Max can live a normal life.
The film is historically of interest because it is suggestive of the later themes that Aronofsky will treat with greater success and detail in subsequent movies.… Expand
Jul 16, 2011High contrast black and white film, effective and innovative camerawork, and well done editing make Pi an enjoyable experience. The plot, the barely connected math terms, the mediocre acting, and (at times) laughable dialogue take off some major points for the promising director Aronofsky.
BenA.Mar 5, 2004This movie is overrated. Not bad, but overratted. It went in unfortunate directions. Arinofsky made some disagreeable decisions.