Dusting Off… Pi (π)
What is it?
The debut full-length feature film from director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler), Pi is a tense, paranoid thriller that follows the story of Max Cohen, a reclusive mathematician who is trying to find a formula for the mathematical patterns found in nature.
He believes he may be close to finding what he is looking for, at which point he begins to attract some unwanted attention from a number of interested parties intent on using Max’s discoveries for their own gain.
Who’s in it?
Max is played by Sean Gullette, who also appears in another Aronofsky film, Requiem for a Dream, as well as Mark Margolis – seen more recently as hector ‘Tio’ Salamanca from AMC’s Breaking Bad – as his former university professor Sol Robeson. The film also features a cameo from Pop Will Eat Itself’s Clint Mansell, who also provides the soundtrack for the film, marking the beginning of a career as a film composer.
What’s the plot?
Max has built a supercomputer capable of hugely complex mathematical calculations to help him try to find a formula for predicting the way that nature will behave. In particular, he reasons that since the stock market is basically a set of data created by the activities of humans, the market itself is, by extension, a living entity. Therefore, if he can find a formula for the patterns that occur naturally in the world around us, he should be able to apply the same formula to the stock market, enabling him to predict whether stocks will rise or fall.
Max feels he is getting close, but there is a part of his formula missing; a number that will pull the whole theory together. All he needs to do is figure out what that number is.
When word of his project reaches Wall Street, naturally the bankers become very interested and begin harassing the reclusive mathematician, offering help with the resources he needs to complete his work, in exchange for the formula.
The bankers aren’t the only people interested, however: in a chance encounter, Max meets Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman), a member of a Jewish sect interested in Kabbalah, numerology and the esoteric power of numbers. Max tells him about his work, and Lenny becomes very interested. Max is subsequently kidnapped by the sect who want to know what the missing number is, believing it to be of key importance to their goals.
Throughout the film, Max become increasingly paranoid and obsessed with finding the missing number, ignoring Sol’s pleas to stop messing with things he does not understand, but things start to turn nasty when the bankers steal the unfinished formula and find it doesn’t work as planned…
Why should I revisit?
Mathematics might not sound like the most interesting theme for a film, but Aronofsky’s low-budget debut is stylish and utterly absorbing from beginning to end: it’s a film not so much about maths as our obsession with patterns and the need to find meaning in everything. Many aspects of the film’s style have since been copied many times over (particularly the short, fast-edited sequences that intersperse the film), and Mansell’s frenetic soundtrack only heightens the tension in this taught thriller.
Who will enjoy it?
Anyone who has enjoyed Aronofsky’s more recent work should take a look at Pi, and you really don’t need to be interested in maths to enjoy the film. For those who are budding mathematicians, films on the subject don’t come around to often, so fill your boots.