Is there any scope for moving images to explore the complex, chaotic world of mathematics and number theory? Director Darren Aronofsky answers this with a film full of turbo-charged visuals that take us inside the head of human calculator Max Cohen, immersing us in his chattering, constantly-turning mind that mimics the retro, noisy computer hardware that clutters his apartment.
Cohen is trying to find a pattern in Wall Street share dealing that will allow him to predict the stock markets. With the infinite value of Pi at the heart of his calculations, the reclusive but brilliant mathematician finds himself wanted by ruthless corporate types, not to mention a group of equally tough Rabbis who believe his figures and final answer will be a communication route to God. As he gets closer to the magic number, pressure upon him mounts, not least in his own head where regular, skull-splitting migraines leave him in a near-comatose state. Despite warnings from his mathematics mentor, Sol, who suffered a stroke trying to find an answer to Pi, Max continues.
Aronofsky's rapid cutting keeps the pace up and many of his visuals are genuinely unsettling - Max's hallucinations during his brutal headaches are reminiscent of David Lynch's equally disturbing feature debut "Eraserhead". Elsewhere, Aronofsky's use of the bizarre 'Snorri Cam' (a camera strapped to the actor's body, named after its designers, the Snorri Brothers) provides the ultimate in subjectivity, while a subtle use of both slow and fast motion contribute greatly to the depiction of Max's chaos. Sean Gullette, who also co-wrote the film, plays Max so convincingly that when he begins trembling at another imminent migraine attack, you feel like it's coming your way too.
"Pi" is a lesson to aspiring film makers everywhere: perfect your skills, be original, be bold. It's a pity young British directors aren't making films as unique and imaginative as this. Startlingly good cinema.
Read a review of Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream".