January 15, 2007


Movie Review: Pi (1998)

Previously I posted about how much I enjoyed The Fountain. But then I asked myself: Did I really have the right to praise that film while I carried the knowledge that I had yet to see Aronofski's supposedly great first independent film, Pi. I had already watched Requiem For a Dream, which at least gives me a shred of some credibility. But somewhere I knew it was wrong not to already have watched Pi. And so, a few days ago I rented Pi...again. Again? Well, I had rented Pi before, and neglected to watch it, even keeping it late so I could watch it, and still I never watched it, and returned it late, and unseen. It is a bitter feeling to pay late fees for a movie you never watched, and yet I seem to do this to myself often...Having finally seen it I can honestly say that Pi is one of the smartest movies I've ever seen. It is also hilarious at times, and very suspenseful

Plot: Max Cohen is a mathematician living in NYC who is studying the concept that all things, including the stock market, adhere to mathematical patterns, which can be predicted. He believes there is a number that will ultimately be the key to predicting everything; this number is related to the golden ratio which was discovered by the Greeks--a pattern that gets infinitely smaller and infinitely larger forever. The golden ratio is physically manifested as the golden spiral, which spirals outwardly and inwardly infinitely. There are two antagonistic groups who wish to take advantage of Max's discovery. First, Kabbalic Jews believe the number Max is searching for, which is 216 characters long, is the lost original name of God, and if Max finds it, it would be a great source of spiritual power for them. Second, is a group of financial investors who wish to take advantage of Max's discovery for their own financial benefit. So, Max's ever increasing paranoia is at least justifiable. His quest to understand this pattern that explains everything begins to drive him into paranoid state. He hallucinates often on the subway. At one point he sees a brain on the stairs, and when he stabs it he hears/feels a blinding sound. This reminded me of experiments I'd read about in Psychology classes where when a doctor touched the surface of a particular area of a person's brain they would feel or hear a random sensation. Sometimes these sensations would be familiar, other times impossible to describe.

There is a constant inner monologue threw the duration of this film that was perfect for the analytical character of Max. He is constantly restating his assertions about the universe. On of my favorite lines of the inner monologue was: “It's fair to say I'm stepping out on a limb, but I am on the edge and that's where it happens.”

I've come to realize how important the sound track is in Aronofski's films. It's been several days since I watched Pi, and I still can't get that pulsing high-intensity chaotic theme out of my mind--kind of makes me want to restate my assertions about the universe.

In a sense, Pi is the geek version of a Film Noir, in several respects: 1) Max is so obsessed with finding the pattern that explains everything, he ignores the gorgeous woman living in the apartment next to him, even though her heart obviously goes out to him, 2) He's on the run from people trying to take advantage from him, who will even go to violent measures, 3) the film is shot in high-contrast black and white photography, the usual canvas of Film Noir.

By the end of the movie, the movie watcher has gone on a fascinating journey, and perhaps picked up some interesting mathematical philosophical ideas. Pi, by Daren Aranofski is a brilliant movie.

My rating: 3.141592653... Golden Spirals out of 3.15!

More about the Philosophy in Pi: The idea that everything is part of a pattern that can be predicted reminded me of a concept I studied in a Philosophy class called Determinism. A concept that was and is disturbing to me, because inherent in this concept is the lack of free will. Essentially, according to deterministic thinking, everything that happens, even the thoughts that pass threw our minds, are a product of causal-relationships (event a causes event b which causes event c and so on). So the appearance of our decision making ability is merely an illusion. And according to deterministic thinking if you had a good enough tool for analyzing causal relationships, you could predict every event in time. This is what I was reminded of by Max's desire to find a pattern that can predict everything.

If you are like me and are inclined to want to believe in free will (which would obviously make us biased), and against the notion that our thoughts are merely a product of causality, then I think the only solution is faith in god. And I don't mean faith in god in the usual sense. Because I don't need faith to believe there is a creator of the universe--it just makes sense, I think there is rational proof to assume there must be a god. What I mean by having faith in god, is having faith that the creator of the universe did so as a benevolent being out of compassion and as an opportunity for conscious beings (us) to experience life.