Friday, August 7, 1998

Excess + nightmarish vision = 'Pi'

Movie: Pi

Posted on Fri, Aug 7, 1998 at 4:00 AM

***1/2
Our Rating: 3.50

An extraordinarily paranoid intensity drives "Pi," a black-and-white, feverish dream about obsession, numerology, Wall Street and computer technology. The film is so edgy and claustrophobic that it's sure to scare some viewers out of the theater. That is, if the title alone doesn't keep the "Armageddon" crowds away from this thoughtful, sci-fi thriller from newcomer Darren Aronofsky.

Those who choose to be patient will find themselves absorbed in a hallucinatory, low-budget art film about young, disturbed mathematics freak Max Cohen (Sean Gullette). Cohen is bent on discovering the secret pattern that determines the order of the universe, the future of the stock market and the existence of God.

"When I was 6 years old, my mother told me not to look at the sun," Max repeatedly relates in a voiceover. He stared anyway, frying his eyes and brain, and causing a lifetime of painful headaches that may or may not cease once he completes his impossible task. Even Max's professor (Mark Margolis) tells his gifted former student to go home, take a bath and get a life.

Ignoring the advice, he returns to the severe claustrophobia of his apartment, a kind of mad scientist's lair crawling with computer equipment, fraying wires and an old, black rotary telephone. Not even the attentions of a cute, flirtatious next-door neighbor (Samia Shoaib) are enough to lure the recluse from his hell hole.

Soon, an inside trader (Pamela Hart) and her vicious associates want to profit off of Max's research, while Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman) and other members of a cabal of Hasidic Jews pursue him because they think he has tapped into the numerical significance of the Torah.

All of this makes for a fascinating trip. We proceed ever deeper into Max's damaged psyche as he paces the streets of New York's Chinatown, runs like a wounded animal through subway stations, glimpses ghosts and pokes at a pile of brain matter just to see what might erupt.

Aronofsky, whose style owes something to David Lynch's "Eraserhead," David Kronenberg's "Videodrome" and German expressionist F.W. Murnau, has created a startling series of images likely to make an impression far more lasting than any other film this summer.

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