Originally Written on 5/30/2011
While known mostly for Oscar nominated films like The Wrestler and last year’s Black Swan, director Darren Aronofsky burst onto the filmmaking scene with 1998’s Pi, an Lynchian style no-budget thriller about genius, the stock market and one man’s desire for the truth. In Pi, Sean Gullette plays Max Cohen, a reclusive mathematics genius who believes that everything in nature can be explained by numbers. However, when a program written to detect patterns in the stock market spits out a random two hundred and sixteen digit number, outside influences start becoming very interested in his work. Everything from Jewish mysticism to predicting stock outliers starts to come into play and Aronofsky captures all of this with what would become his signature style. From the quick cuts used in Requiem For A Dream to the freaky symbolism made famous by Black Swan, this film is the true genesis of what would become commonplace in an Aronofsky picture.
Pi is also marks Aronofsky’s first collaboration with cinematographer Matthew Libatique, giving the film a very stylized look and feel. With the exception of The Fountain, Libatique would go on to shoot every Aronofsky film and Pi, shot entirely in grainy black and white, would showcase many of the hallmarks of Libatique’s cinematography, including a heavy use of handheld camerawork. The movie has a very student film feel to it and while it does come off looking amateurish, the great performance of Sean Gullette in the lead and Aronofsky’s great direction keeps the film feeling fresh and interesting. Pi is, at its heart, a psychological thriller and lives up to that moniker providing some strong excitement to go along with the number crunching.
While there are some minor issues with some of the acting and the use of handheld camera, especially in the chase sequences, causes more confusion that cohesion, Pi is a wonderful first effort by an extraordinary director. Comparable to David Lynch’s first film Eraserhead in both style and tone, Pi takes the viewer on a strange journey into the drive of genius, highlighting both the light and dark side of the pursuit of truth. While the movie may not look as polished as the directors more recent work, the fact that it was financed mainly by $100 donations from friends and family and made on a paltry budget of $60,000, forgives any missteps in the filmmaking. A fine example of what can be done with a little money and a large imagination, Pi is a fascinating film that should be seen by anybody who’s enjoyed Aronofsky’s later work and wants to see where it all began.
Score – 80%