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1 item from 1997

Film review: 'Pi'

26 January 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

PARK CITY, Utah -- Archimedes couldn't figure out the solution to a vexing problem his king had posed to him. After days of agonized thinking, the Greek mathematician gave up and retired to the bath where in his repose the solution came to him.

No such luck for young Maximilian Cohen (Sean Gullette) who in "Pi" grapples with the most daunting mathematical and ontological questions posed by man.

A brilliant cinematic calculus, "Pi" is an astonishingly accomplished work, integrating questions and insights that have challenged mathematicians, theologians, philosophers and mythmakers for centuries and, within that same equation, extrapolating a profound psychological portrait of one young scientist, who, like Icarus, dares to fly too high. "Pi"'s filmmaker, Darren Aronofsky, won the director's award at Sundance and seems to possess infinite potential.

Admittedly, "Pi"'s appeal will radiate around the cerebral viewer. Its filmic aesthetic, a searing barrage of abrasive sounds and abstract images, will likely strike numb the soft-centered viewer. The challenge for a distributor will be to extend "Pi"'s parameters, much as music labels are sometimes able to take far-flung, avant-garde sounds and make them palatable to the mainstream.

Narratively and structurally, "Pi" charts close in orbit to an Arthur C. Clarke short story, using the outer reaches of scientific and mathematical knowledge as its thematic terrain. Wonderfully, it's a science fiction story, but one of a higher order, not delimited by the superficialities of special effects.

In this ambitious thrust, Gullette stars as a modern-day mad mathematician, Max, who holes up in a tiny urban garret with his electrodes, gadgets, calculators and raw computers, all soldered together in an expressionist hodgepodge of keenly calibrated connections. Max doesn't venture out much, and when he does he shuns all human contact, except with his mentor, a retired mathematician who devoted his life to researching Pi but who has now acknowledged that "life is not mathematics."

Max's obsession with finding a mathematical order to life does not border on mania, it is mania. His mind-set is jarringly transposed to the screen by Aronofsky in a frazzled cacophony of discrete images and assaultive sounds. Indeed, Max is clearly soaring too close to the sun and, at the very least, he needs a break before he suffers a breakdown.

"Pi" is a staggeringly powerful scoping of complex and compact dimension: epistemological questions, about how man can gain knowledge and then try to understand higher dimensions with his finite capacities, are vigorously and imaginatively presented in this most sophisticated, thematic offering. The technical contributions are manifestly superior, including cinematographer Matthew Libatique's involving, expressionistic lensing, as well as composer Clint Mansell's assonantly eloquent score.

For once, film rises to a dimension of thought and illumination that is far beyond its usual pulp, bad-novel sources. Big subject matter fuses with low-budget wizardry and the results in this endeavor are awe-inspiring, yet infinitely wise.


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Producer: Eric Watson

Screenwriter-director: Darren Aronofsky

Co-producer: Scott Vogel

Executive producer: Randy Simon

Co-executive producers: David Godbout, Tyler Brodie, Jonah Smith

Director of photography: Matthew Libatique

Editor: Oren Sarch

Production designer: Matthew Maraffi

Music: Clint Mansell


Cast: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Samia Shoaib, Pam Hart, Stephen Pearlman

Running time -- 85 minutes


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1 item from 1997

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