If a guy tells me he spends all his time ruminating about pi and I discover he's not talking about baked goods, I usually start backing away and plotting vectors to the exits. Ever taken a good look at your typical mathematician? They have hair growing out of their ears and they walk around in circles near dumpsters mumbling to themselves about the complexity of nonlinear dynamics. For fun, they tell each other "mathematician jokes":
Q. Why did the mathematician cross the road?
A. 23,428. Haw!
Q. How many mathematicians does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. One. Ha!
Q. Knock knock!
A. Who's there?
A. Go away.
So it's no surprise that "Pi" concerns the travails of a man, Max Cohen (Sean Gullette), who, to the exclusion of all else, runs that lump of tissue in his head way too hard. In the course of working on a code he thinks will be able to predict the stock market, Max runs into Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman), who gives him the idea that his theory is related to Jewish mysticism. He also consults his old teacher, Sol (Mark Margolis), who suggests pi has something to do with Max's code. Sol also helpfully suggests that Max is going to go out of his mind if he doesn't get out of the house, get a girlfriend, or at least try masturbating to suggestive pictures of Ian Stewart.
First-time director Darren Aronofsky's film has this whole "Tetsuo/Eraserhead" thing going for it, which not only reveals that Aronofsky didn't have a dime with which to make his movie, but also that he probably did something ridiculous like tie his camera to the head of a hyperactive six-year-old. The result is about as coherent as Ted Kaczynski's manifesto.
That Aronofsky won an award at Sundance only encourages an emphasis on technique over everything else. Any dope can amble through the street shaking a 16mm camera all over the place like he's having an epileptic fit, but I have yet to see that technique used to produce anything more cogent than "cinematic performance art." If only Aronofsky had managed to find and crack the code for coherent storytelling.
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