Pi

on July 10, 1998 by Ray Greene
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   A hallucinatory rumination on the riddle of existence, "Pi" is the story of a brilliant and misanthropic mathematician named Maxmillian Cohen (Sean Gullette) who is engaged in a lonely and Kafkaesque quest to use computer technology to find the organizing principle of everything that is. Obsessed with the numerical theories that underlie the New York Stock Exchange, Max draws the attention of a shadowy New York brokerage house which hopes to use his discoveries to predict and manipulate market performance. The theft of a flawed numeric sequence causes the market to tumble, and Max becomes a hunted man. But the materialistic Wall Street set isn't the only crowd who'll stop at nothing to get their hands on his data; on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum is an ultra-orthodox Jewish cabal, which believes that Max is on the verge of discovering the 216 digit numerical designation for the ancient Hebrew name of God.
   If that sounds complicated, it is, but Aronofsky's sure directorial hand and sophisticated screenplay manage the impressive feat of making what might have been a ridiculous premise a riveting viewing experience. Condemned by a budget of around $60,000 to shoot his intellectual epic in 16mm black and white, Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique utilize the compactness and fluidity of the Bolex camera to pull off some unbelievably accomplished camera work, alternately reminiscent of the cold precision of Alain Resnais and the nightmarish surrealism of early period David Cronenberg.
   But "Pi" is a lot more than an experiment in clever tracking shots. Intentionally or not, Aronofsky has created a compelling myth that attempts to reconcile the material and the metaphysical for a cybernetic age that is increasingly on the verge of being overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the digital imagery and information that has become such a part of daily life.
   By turns a study in horror, sci-fi and existential theology, "Pi" is a delight for the eye and the mind. If the next 11 months in independent film manage to come up with another movie as good as this one, or to launch a single additional directing career that looks as promising, 1998 will have been a very good year indeed.    Starring Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis and Ben Shenkman. Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Produced by Eric Watson. A Live release. Sci-Fi/Drama. Black and white. Not yet rated. Running time: 85 min. The jewel in the 1998 Sundance crown, Darren Aronofsky's daring first feature is a textbook example of how an ambitious young filmmaker can take the limitations of the low-budget format and, by refusing to capitulate to them, turn every single one of them to his advantage.
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