My favorite kind is pumpkin, how ’bout yours?
Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) is a mathematical genius that may, or may not be crazy and imagining things. Okay, there’s actually no question about it! He is going crazy and imagining things, but he doesn’t know that yet, nor does anybody else around him. However, what does aid him in this state of absolute craziness and non-stop paranoia, is the fact that he’s able to count and predict numbers in daily-routines. He even believes that he can predict the patterns in the Stock Market and make billions and billions of dollars. However, eventually, others begin to catch onto him, or so he thinks. For some reason, he has a bunch of neighbors that can’t seem to mind their own business; a overly-friendly rabbi who constantly bothers him at a local coffee shop to talk numbers; an old friend/confidant of his (Mark Margolis) that warns him of the dangers of getting into your own head a bit too much; and a suited-up, business-lady of sorts that is always calling him and finding him on the streets, in the subways and right outside of his apartment. So basically, it’s Max versus the world, or at least that’s how it all may be playing out in his head. You never know!
That’s not the most perfect synopsis ever summarized for this movie, but you get the idea: Dude’s smart, dude’s crazy, dude’s paranoid, bad stuff happens to dude. It’s a premise we’ve all seen done a million times before, but what sets this movie apart from the rest of of those other flicks about basket cases, is Darren Aronofsky’s highly-stylized direction. See, back before he gave us asses-to-asses, killer ballerinas, or even Noah’s ark, Darren Aronofsky was just another young, Jewish kid from New York that wanted to make movies and wanted to make his presence known.
So, of course, what better way to do so then have your whole movie filmed in grainy black-and-white, crazy editing-tricks only seen in certain music videos at the time, and have a heavy-electronic score done by the one and only Clint Mansell! And while that aspect of the story may separate from the millions and millions of others, it isn’t like the style takes over what should be substance. Because while Aronofsky definitely does show the many tricks up his sleeves that he has, he also realizes that in order to push a story forward, you have to be able to trust your audience that they’ll be paying attention, using their brains whenever possible, connecting the dots and, if worse comes to worse, be taking notes down on whatever piece of information they may see as “pertinent” to the story, and what might not be.
Because of this trust between Aronofsky and the audience he clearly is making this movie for, it’s easy to see why one person would get mixed-up in it all. Hell, even yours truly, a person that was strung-up on two cups of coffee by the time of watching this, even got lost on a whole bunch of clues/hints/ideas/whatever-the-hell that was thrown my way. That’s probably less of a complaint about the movie, and more of a problem I just have a silly, stupid, cheese-burger-loving human being, but so be it! I’m not always up-on-my-game, I tell you!
Anyway, Aronofsky keeps this movie moving at a nice pace where you don’t always have enough time to make sense of everything that’s happening, nor do you quite allow all of the details of this story sink in just yet. You sort of just have to roll with the punches, and see exactly where it is that Aronofsky ends up with this story, and where he takes all of his characters. Needless to say, it’s a crazy adventure that definitely doesn’t take it easy on you, much like Aronofsky’s other movies that would soon follow.
Which is, yet again, another aspect of Aronofsky’s movies that worked so damn well here, as well. His style may be overbearing, but I think that’s the point. In order to racket-up as much tension as humanly possible for a pseudo-intellectual thriller that runs just under an-hour-and-a-half, Aronofsky throws whatever the hell it is that he can at us. Certain scenes in this movie seem like dreams that linger on in to the territory of being nightmares, which is all because our protagonist, Max Cohen, is just a total and complete nut-job. Although it should definitely be said that he’s a sympathetic one, if only because we truly feel bad that a guy such as him would be subject to so much mind-fuckery that it’s insane. Also, Sean Gullette does a nice job at making this a guy we can believe both as a weirdo, as well as a guy that can be nice and normal, if his mind and his habit of number-crunching allows him to do so. But most of all, what makes him so damn watchable is that we’re right there with him for the whole adventure he’s taken on.
Everything he sees, we see; everything he hears, we hear; everything he feels, we feel; everything he thinks, we think. Why? Well, it’s all because we are inside his mind the whole entire movie; which is both a good thing, as well as a bad thing.
It’s good, because it constantly throws us for a loop every time we think we have this story all completely figured-out; but on the flip side, it’s not-so-good because the dude is clearly crazy and doesn’t always have the right idea about whatever is in that thick head of his. Therefore, since we’re seemingly placed inside of his mind, lounging on a spec of his brain, it’s never clear where this will go, why or with whom. It’s all up in the air, and I think that’s how Aronofsky wants it to be, if all because he knows that sometimes, these types of stories can end in such predictable, obvious ways. Good on his part for not letting it be so, since this could have easily just been another case of a first-timer getting a bit too big for his britches. Even if so, it’s done him well in the 16 years since. That’s for sure.
Consensus: Easily one movie to throw any smart and determined viewer for a loop, Pi is the type of movie you can’t expect to get, but at least pay enough attention to that you understand just enough in order to feel like you’re along for the psychological thrill-ride Aronofsky loves having us be aboard for.
8 / 10 = Matinee!!