When Max (Sean Gullette) was a child his mother told him never to stare into the sun, yet he did that very thing, blinding himself for weeks. He was afraid he would never see again, but he did and that's when the headaches began, pain that has lasted with him into adulthood. Now Max is grown up, he is a mathematician who believes he can uncover the basics of life through the power of numbers, and as he grows close to cracking a code he has been noticed by some unwelcome parties. He thought he would be able to predict the stock exchange with his research, but what if his findings have existence-shaping qualitiies?
Pi was writer and director Darren Aronofsky's first feature after a string of short films, and announced an experimental new talent on the scene. The film quickly gained a cult following from those who recognised its originality, and its presentation consisted of a grainy black and white look, filled with nervy closeups and scored by Clint Mansell with jittery techno which only added to the sense of watching a man delving into forbidden knowledge almost despite himself. Star Gullette had come up with the idea along with Eric Watson, and it was a provocative one.
Gullette is in practically every scene, and thanks to his performance one is never sceptical that Max isn't going through what he thinks he is. But is he getting close to a universal truth or is he so gripped by his ideas that he is inescapably insane? Aronofsky never seems quite sure, or at least strains to keep the actual nature of what is going on ambiguous, but the fact remains other characters apart from Max are fascinated by his research, mainly two groups: some shadowy businessmen and a Jewish sect who both believe he is onto something big.
Predicting how the stock exchange would go could make someone a lot of money, but Max doesn't seem to be one of those people once he tracks unifying patterns in nature itself with his formula. His cramped apartment reflects his cluttered mind, full of computer equipment that he works out his numbers on, not to mention the ants. When he does leave his home, he enters a paranoid world where he is vulnerable, not only to strangers but to those who appear to know more about him than they let on; thank goodness he has a friend in retired mathematician Sol (Mark Margolis) who tries to keep Max's thoughts straight as they play their games of go.
It's not enough of course, and in spite of Sol's warnings it's the familiar tale of a man probing into areas Man was not meant to go. There's a definite druggy feeling to much of Pi's imagery, not only the hallucinations Max suffers of, say, a human brain on the stairs of a New York subway station, but the consciousness-expanding plotting as well. Gullette provides narration for the notions that cannot be visualised, but Aronofsky still knows when to let his pictures do the talking once the audience follows his train of thought. So obsessive is the film that while it's never less than convincing as portrait of a one track mind, a certain monotony sets in after about half an hour, so wisely the conspiracy angle is introduced just in time to wrap up the story in less than an hour and a half. Overall, it's stimulating as far as you can buy into the lead character's fixations and he is persuasive - for a while.
American writer and director, whose low budget science fiction film Pi was much praised. He followed it with Requiem for a Dream, an equally intense drug addiction story, with the long-awaited but unsuccessful sci-fi epic The Fountain arriving in 2006. Downbeat drama The Wrestler was Oscar-nominated, suggesting he was fulfilling his early promise, and Natalie Portman won an Oscar for his ballet horror Black Swan. His eccentric Biblical epic Noah met with a mixed reaction to say the least, though that was nothing compared to mother!, his other Bible pic.