Review: Pi – 15th Anniversary Edition / Cert: 15 / Director: Darren Aronofsky / Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky / Starring: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman / Release Date: August 12th
‘Maths-themed thriller’ may not be the most enticing of pitches, and yet that’s exactly what launched the career of Darren Aronofsky, long before the acclaimed successes of The Wrestler and Black Swan. Fifteen years later and Pi is getting a Blu-ray release.
Black Swan is a tense psychological thriller that requires no knowledge of ballet, and it’s easy to care for the eponymous Wrestler without being into the sport, but Pi doesn’t go easy on the mathematical front. Following obsessive genius Max Cohen as he searches for the numerical patterns that shape the world, the film philosophises over Fibonacci, the Golden Ratio, and the complexity of the board game Go.
Yes, there’s potential for anyone not of mathematical mind to become confused. But there’s no need to feel inferior, as the most studied of mathematicians may be equally confused by the surreal twists and turns of the plot. As Max becomes the target of two mysterious groups fighting for the meaning of a 216-digit number that only he can uncover, his obsessive personality sends him spiraling into madness.
This may sound like difficult viewing, and, at times, it is. But Aronofsky depicts Max’s mental descent so viscerally that the film commands you to keep watching. It’s clear from the start that the character is even more paranoid and antisocial than the stereotypical mathematician; he keeps several locks on his apartment door, shuts out all sunlight, and refuses to engage others in conversation. As he starts to notice he’s being followed, his neurosis ramps up, and it doesn’t help that he suffers intolerable migraines and hallucinations.
In bringing all of this to the screen, Aronofsky really gets inside Max’s mind. Handheld camerawork is used skilfully, following Max closely as he paces around his room and constantly cutting to his point of view. We’re shown his hallucinations, a series of recurring images that stick in the mind and encapsulate Max’s fears, most disturbingly a disembodied brain in the centre of an empty train station. Sean Gullette’s excellent performance enhances all of this, really giving the impression that Max is increasingly afraid, addicted, and unwilling to communicate. It’s all shot in grainy, high contrast black and white, which could look cheap and nasty shot by a lesser artist, but works brilliantly to increase the claustrophobic feel and, on Blu-ray, looks even more striking than before. The soundtrack, too, is powerfully expressionist, with an unnerving combination of techno music, eerie electronic sounds, and an imaginary sexual moaning.
Though perhaps not as refined or ultimately satisfying as some of Aronofsky’s more recent films, Pi really is a remarkable debut, an intense and expressionistic tale of a paranoid personality, and a film well worth returning to in 2013.
Extras: Commentaries with Darren Aronofsky and Sean Gulette / Deleted Scenes / BTS Montage / Theatrical Trailer / Original Trailer