I was never a big fan of mathematics. Oh sure I learned the basics. I was even forced to take calculus and algebra to get in to college. You know what? I’ve never had the need to square root anything in my life. Never. The only density I worry about is in my butt and gut. Math may have its place in the universe, but my planet has never felt the need to orbit around it.

piWhich is why I approached writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s highly acclaimed drama “Pi” with some apprehension. For goodness sakes, I thought. A thriller about math? Numbers? Mad mathematicians? “Pi” is a stunning debut film, one filled with striking and disturbing images and edgy performances. While I admired the effort, I kept wondering what all the fuss was about. Shot in an annoying, grainy black and white, “Pi” shows a lot of promise, yet it’s not the critical darling the film festivals have been making it out to be. It’s borderline interesting.

Sean Gullette is impressive as Maximilian Cohen, a paranoid mathematician whose brilliance for numbers came after staring into the sun too long. You know, one of those childhood things your parents warn you about. Not only did Cohen burn his retinas, he somehow amassed an incredible knowledge of all things numerical. Since life is always a give and take experience, Cohen also experiences uncontrollable headaches and seizures that require an enormous amount of medicine which has made him completely schizophrenic and paranoid. He lives in an apartment that has become an electronic fortress. Gullette seems to have a firm grasp of the character, and director-writer Aronofsky does an excellent job of creating an environment that lends itself to Cohen’s paranoid illusions.

Cohen is working on a project that will unleash the theory of “Pi.” His only friend is Sol Robeson (the wonderful Mark Margolis), a smart, old man who has also come close to unlocking the secret. It seems everyone wants to know the answer, including a mysterious Hasidic Jew named Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman), who claims that the answer to the theory is also the key to his religion’s past; and Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart), a representative for a high power Wall Street firm. Cohen’s headaches escalate with the stress and intimidation he faces from all factions. He just wants to solve the problem to satisfy his own curiosity. He can understand but can’t appreciate the ulterior motives of Meyer and Dawson.

Shot for $60,000, “Pi” makes good use of limited settings and a handful of characters. I didn’t even mind the black and white, but the grainy look (enhanced by Aronofsky’s use of over-lighting scenes) really grates on you after awhile. Despite the fine performances and sharp dialogue, you begin to feel like you’re watching a student film that goes on thirty minutes too long. “Pi” is truly a hallucinatory experience, but at what cost? It’s hard to care about the characters or their motives when the film looks like a bad black and white German porn film from the 1930’s. If Cohen’s character thought he was going through hell, he should have to sit through this movie.


VISION: [ X ] 20/20 [ ] Good [ ] Cataracts [ ] Blind

Stunning black and white digital transfer in the film’s original 1.66:1 widescreen ratio. Forget color saturation. The black and white images are vivid, but due to the nature of the beast, not extremely state-of- the-art. The blacks are indeed solid, and hold up under the tightest of scrutiny. It’s hard to complain about compression artifacts since the film is so grainy, but it doesn’t look like a problem. There’s also no pixelation.

HEARING: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Minor Hearing Loss [ ] Needs Hearing Aid [ ] Deaf

The original theatrical soundtrack wasn’t a technical marvel, and even though the DVD is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround, it’s pretty tame. Not that something more intricate would have been appropriate for this film. The dialogue mix is strong, which is all that really matters. Clint Mansell’s musical score fills the room with it’s techno chords, but it’s not overwhelming by any means. For such a low budget effort, I was amazed that there was very little distortion on the soundtrack. For the most part, the soundtrack is clean, but not really crisp. It gets the job done.

ORAL: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Good [ ] Poor

Closed captions in English for the hard of hearing.

COORDINATION: [ X ] Excellent [ ] Good [ ] Clumsy [ ] Weak

Artisan Entertainment has done a splendid job of packaging “Pi.” The DVD comes with an assortment of extras that help explain the motivations of the film maker’s, and clear up some of the confusion of the film itself. Here’s what you get:

check.gif (406 bytes)A hidden “Pi” game that’s challenging to play, but comes with one drawback. When you get to the end of the game, the prize is the secret to “Pi.” Unfortunately, once you unlock the secret of “Pi,” the disc self-destructs like on “Mission: Impossible” and an electronic beam erases the information from your brain. (Okay, I’m messing with your mind)

check.gif (406 bytes) You do get four deleted (they’re labeled as “lost”) scenes that aren’t groundbreaking, but are an nice addition to the DVD. You can watch the deleted scenes with or without director’s commentary.

check.gif (406 bytes) Not one, but two running audio commentaries. First up is writer-director Darren Aronofsky, who guides through the process of low budget filmmaking. Then there’s an audio commentary from star Sean Gullette, whose sacrifices for the film are explored in depth.

check.gif (406 bytes) There’s a behind-the-scenes montage (narrated by Aronofsky and Gullette) that is simple and to the point. I liked this feature because it helps put faces to names that we only see in credits.

check.gif (406 bytes) A music video that is more of a montage of scenes set to Clint Mansell’s musical score. Scenes from the film are interspersed with color sequences of an ant colony that help clarify the lead character’s isolation and vulnerability.

check.gif (406 bytes) Two theatrical trailers.

check.gif (406 bytes) Riveting, interactive main and scene access menus. The scene access menus feature clips from each scene, always a plus in my book.

check.gif (406 bytes) Informative and easy-to-read production notes and cast & crew bios and filmographies (which, except for Stephen Pearlman, are mostly relegated to this film).

PROGNOSIS: [ ] Excellent [ X ] Fit [ ] Will Live [ ] Resuscitate [ ] Terminal

As someone who watches films for a living, I kept feeling that I was supposed to like writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s film more than I did. It’s daring and inventive, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

VITALS: $29.99/Rated R/85 Minutes/B&W/36 Chapter Stops/Keepcase/#60494




HMO: Artisan Entertainment

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