Review: Pi (1998) (More Than The Sum Of Its Parts?)

“My mother told me not to stare into the sun…”

Twenty years ago (roughly), a young filmmaker released his first feature film: Pi. That man was Darren Aronofsky, and since then he’s directed a few of my favourite films. However, when I was first introduced to Requiem for a Dream, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I knew I liked it. But I was overwhelmed by it. I needed more Aronofsky. His only other film was Pi…so I eventually found it. And again, I was overwhelmed by it. It’s rough and ready and not quite a masterpiece, but it was a sign of great things to come from Aronofksy.

Max Cohen, a mathematician, is convinced that there’s a numerical code that can explain everything in the universe. He starts off with trying to use his theory to predict stocks…but his homemade computer spits out a 216 digit number and malfunctions. He soon finds Wall Street analysts and Hasidic Jews hounding him for that 216 digit code that could be the code to explain everything in the universe…Oh, and Max suffers from migraines due to looking at the sun for too long as a kid. He’s also prone to hallucinations and paranoia.

“Mathematics is the language of nature…”

So, that’s the premise. . It’s a difficult film to watch, in more ways than one. The stark black and white contrast of the film almost discouraged me from watching it first time around. It’s very hard on the eyes, so keep that in mind if you want to watch it. But persevere; you can always get glasses if your eyesight suffers (or a stronger prescription!). For the slight headache and eye strain is worth it. For you’ll not only get a headache from the contrast, but from wrapping your head around the theories explored in Pi and the heavy and fast edits.

This is Max. He’s a little strange. But if he can crack the stock market, then who cares?

Don’t expect this film to handhold you through every mathematical/religious/economic theory it spits out at you Complicated maths is splurted out at a rapid pace. Listen carefully, and listen closely. Merely from that point of view, Pi is refreshing. Aronofsky expects you to be paying close attention, and if you falter for a mere second, you’ll be lost among the complications. Sometimes, we as an audience need to be treated like adults when we’re watching a film! We need to be treated like we have a brain!

You also need to pay close attention because Max is an unreliable narrator thanks to his hallucinations. Is he getting close to cracking the code of the universe, or is he just crazy? Has his obsession melted his mind? Does he really see a doppleganger on the other side of the subway, bleeding from the wrist? Does he really hear his neighbours enjoying sexual intercourse? Or is it all in his head? Of course, the blurring between reality and illusion is something Aronofsky comes back to again and again in his work.

(It’s not for nothing that I placed it at #4 on My Top 10 List of Surreal Films! Click here to check it out)

“Max, Max, look!”

Back then, a computer couldn’t beat a human in a game of Go. Now computers can beat us at Go…

In fact, most of the themes present in Pi are present in most of Aronofsky’s films: obsession, reality and illusion, a central character that’s driven mad by said obsession. If you’ve seen any of Aronofsky’s films, you’ll notice a number of things that have their genesis in Pi. Like most of his films, it’s haunting, brooding and horrifying. But, one of the downfalls of Pi is that the outcome is not as nearly satisfying as the build-up. Aronosky has improved on that point, with most of his films coming to a natural and fitting end. Here, it feels as if Aronofsky took the easy way out, rather than press full steam ahead into the plot he set up.

As an example of creating innovation on a low budget (I think Aronofsky made it for 60,000 dollars), Pi is second to none. From the editing to the soundtrack, everything feels rough and ready, but very well done (although the soundtrack always plunges me into the 1990s!). It feels fresh and unique, from the quick and frantic edits to the use of the Snorri cam (a camera’s strapped to the main actor’s body. You’ll fall into Cohen’s world of numbers and hallucinations. I come out of it thinking I could direct a film (but a few hours later, I snap back to reality! Or do I…). It’s not Aronofsky’s finest film (I think that plaudit goes to Black Swan), but for a first-time director on a low-budget, it’s damned impressive. And it’s under 90 minutes as well!

(And is it strange that Christopher Nolan put out his first film, Following, in 1998 as well? Two well-known and successful directors started their careers in the same year…coincidence?)

VERDICT: 8/10. I won’t lie: Pi is a difficult watch. It’s shot in grainy black and white and requires you to pay attention. A lot. But it’s innovative, memorable and haunting.

What did you think of Pi (1998)? Leave your thoughts/comments below!

Click here for my review of The Wrestler (2008)

Click here for my review of mother! (2017)


3 thoughts on “Review: Pi (1998) (More Than The Sum Of Its Parts?)

  1. mattdoylemedia January 25, 2018 / 8:41 am

    I remember seeing this ages ago – I borrowed this and Primer from a friend – and enjoyed it. It’s an interesting film and a little out of the ordinary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hammy Reviews January 25, 2018 / 9:21 am

      It is a memorable film. Primer is one I need to watch again…and for a third time?

      Liked by 1 person

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