Mosaic / Reviews / October 22, 2014

Flix: “π” an exhilarating thriller

Flix is a weekly series that reviews a movie available on Netflix. This week, I review the 1998 film “unnamed” (“Pi”).

Films have the astonishing ability to present vivid depictions of individuals’ psyches. Through their depictions, they explore the infinite complexities of the human mind. And while these explorations are always fascinating, they tend to be Ñ for lack of a better word Ñ terrifying. The psychological thriller, a familiar genre that turns the individual’s tortured psyche into the film’s surreal reality, has the potential to simultaneously enlighten and frighten its audience. And few psychological thrillers are as enlightening and frightening as Darren Aronofsky’s 1998 film ‘¹’

The film follows tortured mathema

tical genius Max Cohen (Sean Gulette) as he spends endless hours in his cramped apartment searching for a pattern among the infinite digits of pi. It’s one of those movies that purports to have a shockingly simple concept in its first 10 minutes, then quickly proves how complex its concept really is. As Max undertakes his interminable endeavor, he struggles with his antisocial tendencies and his own sanity. He begins to experience paranoia and hallucinations on the empty streets and subway cars of New York City. As he uncovers more and more information on pi, he begins to notice patterns in the stock market and in Hebrew texts that ultimately make him the target of corporate sharks and religious fanatics alike. Whi

le the film presents profound social commentaries on capitalism and religion, at its core it presents the story of a lonely man trying to find solace in a corrupt world.

Aronofsky’s f

irst film (he went on to direct “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan”) examines the themes and motifs common in most of the director’s later works, like obsession, societal alienation and human psychology. But the unconventional aesthetics of “¹” distinguish Aronofsky’s debut film from the others on his impressive resume.

In grainy black-and-white, the movie’s cinematography parallels Max’s deteriorating mental state. The use of shaky cam and body rigs to track Max’s clumsy movements is an aesthetic choice Aronofsky uses to reflect the chaos within Max’s mind. As the film progresses, the movie morphs into a Luis-Bu–uel-style surrealist art film; the camera begins to linger on extreme close-ups of ants and a recurring image of a disembodied human brain. While the movie’s visuals aren’t for the faint of heart, the harsh atmosphere and gripping story Aronofsky has meticulously created make even the most graphic moments absolutely enthralling.The cinematography and editing effectively work to trap the audience in Max’s claustrophobic headspace, making it difficult for viewers to discern dream from reality.

But of all the unconventional aesthetic choices that create the atmosphere of “¹,” Clint Mansell’s creepy, though energetic, IDM soundtrack is the film’s unifying force. The minimalist analog synth melodies and the industrial drum beats perfectly complement the film’s haunting intensity. Throughout the film, Mansell’s score punctuates Max’s chaotic thought process and conjures a sense of ambivalence in the viewer. Despite its upbeat, danceable energy, the music manages to be eerily menacing and, at times, borderline nightmarish; it’s essentially the perfect soundtrack for an all-nighter.

What “¹” examines is the delicate balance between genius and insanity. Despite its seemingly simple concept, the movie explores the atavistic struggles of human beings  greed


, obsession, loneliness. But at its core the film chronicles our endless quest for truth. After a first viewing, one may be inclined to take an aspirin before watching the film again.



Stefan Torralba

Tags:  3.14159 arithmetic Aronofsky capitalism Darren director film films genius insanity Judaism math movies numbers Pi religion π

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