Pi is the kind of movie I wished I could've seen in one of those dank art-house movie theaters in New York City, as it's practically gift-wrapped for the crowds. But it's not done with every shot lingering on the characters, soaking in minimalism in its black and white photography, quite the opposite. Darren Aronofsky is a filmmaker I first got into through Requiem for a Dream, which now years after I saw it I want to revisit again upon the soon to be released the Fountain and especially after now seeing Pi. Before with 'Requiem', I did like the movie a lot, but felt a little apprehensive about deeming it that old term 'masterpiece' as the editing, while ultra fast for a purpose, almost came off as too "MTV" for me. But years later, after hundreds of more films taken in, I'm ready for a second look. In this particular case, Pi is also the kind of movie that warrants a second look at the director's other films. His themes run just as much together as does his breakneck style. And it's not just to show off; he truly does get inside a psychology through subjective camera AND editing, to a degree that might impress Hitchcock, albeit with some whiplash.
Max Cohen played by Sean Gullette is the protagonist of the story, who's main foe is none other than the universe itself, in a sense, all through one number. Or rather, a series of numbers, one which might unlock the Stock Market secret for him. He doesn't even want to play the market, mind you, but the point for him- if one can follow- might be attributed to a repeated memory he has of looking at the sun as a boy, and soon looking past the shock of actually looking long at it. This is a very small device by Aronofsky but it works well to establish- and continue- this man's downward spiral. And spirals, by the way, seem to also figure into the film, as well as a secret technology firm (with a woman who reminded me of Condaleeza Rice look-alike), and especially a near undercover Hasidim ring where they need the numbers *in* Cohen's head to unlock some big secret to God. But even with all of this pressure, Cohen can't shake what's dogging him around, in his own cramped, wire-ridden apartment, with many bugs crawling around.
The key for this movie really is atmosphere, in the acting (if it makes you uncomfortable sometimes that's the point too, and it's probably the strangest performance of a lifetime for Gullette), the production design (that apartment and the subways), the grainy, spectacular photography by Matthew Libatique, the editing to be sure- which here, unlike the breakneck 'Requiem', does take a break from the cuts so quick they almost past subliminally (which isn't bad)- and the moody music that is so slight you almost forget its there. It even works for me, and this is a big plus, as someone who's not really interested in mathematics (worst subject in school), and even better as it drew me in to his obsessions with it. I really liked one of the early scenes between Max and his the friendly Hassidic man who explains on paper different numbers and their relation to parts of the Torah. And, in the end, it all comes down to getting engrossed through what the filmmaker's bringing in with this man. There is a sort of detachment from reality- that most of us would never touch much of this with a ten foot pole- but then again it really isn't. Aronofsky also makes a point of some hallucinations/dreams adding to the ambiance, skidding almost towards the pretentious, and thus creating a world all of its own in Pi for Max, and for us as well.
A film that I shall certainly seek out again when I can, if only to see if I can understand some things a little more (or maybe not as case might be), and to see such a powerhouse performance from Gullette. Grade: A