Directed by Darren Aronofsky.
Starring Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis and Ben Shenkman.
Rewind to 1998 and Pi was only a suggestion of the potential of the then 29 year old writer-director Darren Aronofsky. In the 15 years that have elapsed since the release of Pi, Aronofsky has directed five feature films, three of those of which he has penned, a tad short of the eight of his contemporary Christopher Nolan, who in 1998 wrote and directed his first noir thriller The Following. Now fast forward two years later when these two young phenoms would follow-up their impressive debut features with the equally impressive Requiem for a Dream and Memento, therein sidestepping the risk of being as Aronofsky called it a “one-hit wonder with a sophomore slump.”
Whilst Nolan’s masterful imagining of the Batman myth has firmly secured him a place in the social consciousness, Aronofsky remains on the fringes. Regardless, Aronofsky has created an intelligent and creative body of work that has served in the eyes of French filmmaker Matthieu Kassovitz to bring a certain degree of credibility to present-day Hollywood that now casts a shadow over contemporary French cinema.
“French cinema is not where it should be. We invented the technology, we perfected it and we reinvented it – but right now we’re stalling… We don’t set the bar high enough and Hollywood is making far better movies than we do, and it shouldn’t be like that. We should make the interesting movies and they should make the shitty commercial ones – but we’re doing the shitty commercial ones and they’re doing the interesting ones. So why should I waste my time when Darren Aronofsky is working in America?”
From Pi to Black Swan, Aronofsky’s body of work paints a picture of a filmmaker who can merge superficial artistic flourishes with character and narrative ideas; Aronofsky the superficial and spiritual filmmaker.
Alongside The Fountain, Pi remains one of his most high concept films. Visually and narratively it was and remains a strikingly off-beat psychological thriller; a surreal tour de force that follows the travails of Mathematician Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette) to discover the exclusive 216 figure number from which all patterns in nature stem.
Shot in black and white, Pi possesses a limitless energy that employs shades of black and greys offset with whites in place of a colour palette to create Max’s paranoid, obsessive and claustrophobic world. It is unlikely Pi would have worked if shot in colour, and the thought I find as equally troubling as that of Jake La Motta’s bright red boxing gloves being thrust towards the screen in Raging Bull.
Aronofsky attempts and succeeds in creating an interactive experience, fusing together Libatique’s cinematography and Mansell’s score to create a fevered and disorientating experience for the film’s audience, in which we find ourselves immersed in Max’s obsessions. Just as Max’s former Mathematics tutor Sol (Mark Margolis) warns him of the dangers of focusing on that one number and abandoning scientific rigour, Max’s voiceover compounds this disorientating effect and so we begin to adopt Max’s world view. We are left with only the haunting notion that everything is a consequence of what has become Max’s and to a point our irrational obsession.
Pi is in itself a reversal; a transgression to cinema’s past; to a time before colour cinema. However, the black and white images depict the complexity of the then contemporary present-day; art and the depiction of Max’s world and reality contradictions within the same space.
Aronofsky’s cinema is predominantly interested in obsession and the obsessive behaviour of its characters and the inherent consequences. From Cohen’s obsession with mathematics and hence his erratic behaviour, it is a thematic device that runs through Aronofsky’s films to create a cinema of obsession.
On re-discovering Pi, it occurs to me that it is a fitting feature debut, a film obsessed with a world constructed out of a single 216 digit numerical sequence from which all patterns in nature stem, and from this one number, obsession emerges in the cinema of Darren Aronofsky.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Paul Risker is co-editor in chief of Wages of Film, freelance writer and contributor to Flickering Myth and Scream The Horror Magazine.