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Pi (1998)
Director: Darren Aronofsky

review by Emma French

A mathematician with migraines has rarely proved as intriguing as Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette), the tortured hero, does in Pi, a superbly acted and dazzlingly intelligent production. Though the film makes no effort to be populist or accessible, it is elevated above cult curiosity by its emotional impact and its grounding in familiar cinematic tropes and genres.
   Strategic and self-conscious use of black and white film contributes to the viewer's sense of Max's pain, isolation and paranoia. The brilliant, evocative original score by Clint Mansell also plays a significant role in creating the mood of the movie. Max has the high forehead, twitching fingers and intense gaze of the classic B-movie mad scientist. His laboratory is a menacing black hole of customised super computers and ant farms. The oppressive repetition of the film's second half: recurring sounds, images, music, combined with the protagonist's abrupt transformation into a Nosferatu lookalike contender, throws popular horror into the generic mix. Nor does the film blind with its science. The roll call of scientists and mathematicians whose theories are referenced is largely familiar, a science Top Of The Pops: Pythagoras, Fibonacci, Da Vinci, Archimedes.
   Though Max's quests to predict the stock market and to unravel the secrets of the cabbala place his mathematical genius in plausible and compelling scenarios, the meaning of much of the plot is elusive. Max's hallucinations become increasingly indistinguishable from his version of reality. Aside from his concerned neighbours and irate landlady, no one is quite who they seem, from his disillusioned mentor Sol Robeson (Mark Margolis) to his inquisitive friend Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman II). His infinite trust in the power of mathematics is matched only by his mistrust of the fellow humans he views through the spy-hole in his door, laden with customised locks. A scene where his suspicion spills over into an attack on a student cameraman who dared to take his picture terrifies, the transformation of Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart II), his corporate tormentor, into a figure who proves his worst fears correct more so.
   For the majority of the film, whilst one can admire the intellectual rigour, it is rarely a pleasurable viewing experience. It would seem impossible to capture the sounds of a headache, yet this film succeeds, both admirably and agonisingly. The irritations of Max's life: the phone he leaves ringing, the outsiders who pester him, at times become the irritations of the viewer. The closing scenes of the movie, however, deliver unexpected visceral shocks that command a far greater emotional involvement that had previously been permitted. They form an apotheosis of the elements, both natural and manmade, that have been conspiring together against Max throughout.
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