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.

Which 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.



Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Pamela Hart, Stephen Pearlman in a film directed by Darren Aronofsky. Rated R. 85 Min.


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