Daren Aronofsky is a visionary when it comes to the character study, whether it be a group of drug addicts or a aging professional wrestler. His 1998 offering Pi is certainly no exception, and manages to offer the same high end experience of his later films, without the budget or grandiosity. It is a simple story of madness told in a thrilling, cerebral and fast-paced manner. Aronofsky use of editing offers a reflection of the characters psychology, and each montage, jump cut or handheld pan furthers the story, as opposed to simply adding artistic elements as so many films attempt to do. What makes the film even greater is the incorporation of philosophical, theological and societal commentaries which while blatantly present manage to add to the film without drowning out its enjoyability. It is well made and obviously thought out and offers a vision into Aronofsky's future works in the process.
Pi follows Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette) as he attempts to find a mathematical formula for predicting the ebb and flow of the stock market. Through the combination of drugs, number theory and advanced computer technology Max creeps closer to exacting this formula. However, on the brink of discovering the formula Max's mainframe crashes due to a literal bug entering into his hard drive. What Max is left with is a series of 216 random numbers. In steps a Cabal quoting Jew named Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman) who claims that like Max's stock market theory, the Torah also consists of formulaic numerical patterns that when understood could allow the chosen people to speak directly to God. With this information, Max obsesses with rediscovering this set of numbers and using them to apply to the natural world. However, as a former mentor warns him, he begins to find the numbers in everything. Through a nightmare of hallucinations and drug induced stupors Max manages to destroy his apartment and his own body. In the end Max realizes that his attempts to find the answers to nature are not only impossible, but life threatening.
The philosophy of this film is genius, as one should expect from Aronofsky. It delves into the question of how much knowledge one individual can possess, and at what costs come of pursuing difficult and, at times, problematic issues. Furthermore, it also focuses on tedious effort and physical exhaustion associated scientific pursuits, as is evidenced through multiple characters in the film, as well as references to scientists of the past. Yet it is careful to note that, as is the case with Max's initial discovery, accidents often provide the best answers to questions. In essence, the film takes something similar to Newton's discovery of gravity and adds the element of psychological disorder to the situation. Perhaps the best part of the film is the incorporation of multiple religious ideals to the situation, including Judaism, Buddhism and brief moments of Christianity. Aronofsky draws upon each to show that the universe is broad and incomprehensible, as well as detailed and interconnected, and when one attempts to seek the broader picture by "staring into the sun" they will only "go blind."
Do not hesitate to see this film if you are an Aronofsky fan, it is a great example of his early work and helps to show his evolution as an auteur. A copy for your collection is a must.