PI, the film and the number, addresses the deep human longing for order and pattern in the universe. Yes, it posits, there is a pattern, a grand scheme hidden to all but the chosen few, and the result of discovering it is fraught with peril.
The story concerns Max, a driven, asocial mathematician who spends his days in a cramped New York apartment that he shares with his homemade supercomputer, Euclid. Together, they use the random number generator that is the stock market to catch a whiff of that pattern. Not to make a killing with a new kind of insider trading, Max is beyond such petty, materialistic concerns, but to the mysteries of the creation itself.
One day, as Euclid is placidly crunching numbers, it spits out a most unlikely prediction about the market and a mysterious number with 216 digits. It then promptly crashes. Literally. Though Max crumples the printout in disgust, he’s soon to discover that this is what he has been looking for and that he wasn’t alone in the quest. Stock brokers who want to control the market and Kabbalists who want the true name of God are soon hot on his trail and both are willing to commit considerable mayhem to further their ends.
Sean Gullette plays Max, with introverted body language, hooded, haunted eyes, and prehensile hair. A perfect picture of a man tortured by his pure thirst for knowledge.
Writer/director Darren Aronofsky unfolds the events from inside Max’s head, using a reverse stock process that presents a world of black and white with no mitigating shades of gray. The whites startle with their luminance and the blacks are as dark as infinity. With a sure hand, he conjures up a mosaic of quick cuts, like a tantrum, interspersed with long, almost painful close-ups. The atmosphere is unremittingly claustrophobic, oppressive, and palpably paranoid. As events proceed, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish madness from reality, or even to define them.
PI is a breathtaking tour de force. An esoteric magical mystery tour of what the human mind is meant to know and the consequence of pushing the fragile human psyche to assimilate what is, inherently, beyond its understanding.