Pi (1998)

“There will be no order. Only chaos.” 

Pi is writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s startlingly chaotic and inspirational unveiling into feature filmmaking. Made on a paltry $60,000 budget, Aronofsky’s impressive and compelling psychological thriller centres on the brilliant but increasingly paranoid Max (Sean Gullette – outstanding). The reclusive Max hypothesises that everything in the universe can be understood through numbers. Devoting the entirety of his life to mathematics, he believes that he is on the cusp of discovering the hidden numerical patterns in the stock market.

Prone to violent panic attacks and seizures, Max is warned by his mentor Sol (Mark Margolis) about the consequences of his fanatical behaviours. Ignoring said advice, Max inadvertently uncovers a 216-digit sequence by which the meaning is maddeningly unclear. Confounding his discovery even further are the ceaseless pursuits of a group of Wall Street sharks and a fanatical sect of Hassidic Kabbalah Jews, both of who are privy to his works and seek to exploit his findings for their own sordid gains.

Aronofsky’s tremendously frenetic debut establishes what has become a career-long fixation with the concept of obsession. In each of his films, his protagonist’s obsessive tendencies border on insanity, leading each of them into a violent cycle of self-destruction.

Presented in inky monochromatic tones and evoking imagery and thematic cues from German Expressionism and Surrealism, as well as fellow filmmaker David Lynch, Pi is a deeply alluring and engaging foray into the murky waters between genius and madness. Long-time collaborators Matthew Libatique (cinematographer) and Clint Mansell (composer) help to evoke the film’s eerie sense of mounting dread and claustrophobia through a splendid manipulation of tight camera work, anarchic editing and a chilling techno soundtrack.

Though short on narrative, the 83-minute runtime delivers a razor sharp performance from Gullette and more than enough religio-mathemathical theorising to entrance and captivate those who are brave and willing enough to accept what’s on offer.

Pi is an astounding debut from opening titles to closing credits. In his inaugural film, Aronofsky has showcased a level of artistry and imagination that many-a-director would kill for.

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