Putting a film, or any creation, into the world for the first time creates an expectation and standard people will expect for all proceeding work. Although it’s not as simple as a hit or miss. Darren Aronofsky’s first film Pi was an incredible first film, which I hated. It’s a little convoluted but I’ll explain why I decided to separate my feelings later on.
The main character Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette), is a number theorist who believes mathematics is the language of nature; everything can be represented and understood by numbers, and these numbers create patterns. If he can figure out the patterns, it is the key to the universe, everything becomes predictable, particularly the stock market. Max delves into a world of obsession and insanity as he uncovers the patterns.
Aronofsky draws parallels between madness and genius. You’re never sure how much of what Max is seeing is true, whether what he finds is real or a result of finding things that aren’t there in order to support a theory. When you spend some time really analyzing the movie, it creates serious doubts Max is any sort of genius at all. It’s clear he believes in his own abilities, but perhaps he is, in fact, mad. The film poses a lot of philosophical questions but never fully reveals any answers, which is what makes it such a fascinating watch. Madness is created using a very stylized grainy, high contrast black and white in combination with a particular use of framing, camera movement, and editing, all of which makes the audience experience the paranoia, insanity, and frustration that Max is enduring while also revealing the patterns in his own behaviour. The score works similarly to reflect the life of Max and his atmosphere, creating an unnerving experience. You are completely drawn into Max’s world of chaos in every way.
The link between numbers and religion is a central theme that would have been more interesting if it was used more heavily in contrast with capitalism or the state. Battle lines are drawn between the two, with Max in the middle, but the emphasis is drawn more towards religion. Elements of capitalism are left under-explored, which is a bit of a missed opportunity.
I spent pretty much all of this review praising the movie, but the question still remains as to why I don’t like it. I had a lot of trouble deciding what I wanted to say about this film. I think it’s technically good, but on a personal level, I hate it.
Unless it is an old film, I hate the use of black and white for aesthetic reasons. I don’t think it looks as good as colour and it makes the film harder to watch. It’s this same reason I didn’t finish Sin City despite how critically acclaimed it is. Secondly, I found it hard to focus and stay interested. Despite my love of philosophy, I have never had an interest in philosophical mathematics. Thirdly, the visuals and soundtrack gave me a headache. From the quick cuts to the screeching sounds here and there, it created sensory overload. The thing is, all these elements that I dislike, work well with the concept of the film. They all make sense and I completely understand why every decision was made. If I were to think about what I think makes a good movie on a logical level, then Pi is great. I realize personal opinion and preference is an integral part of experiencing any film, but I felt like it wasn’t fair to discredit the film for my own personal qualms, especially when it had all the elements of great work. Pi, as a debut film, allowed Aronofsky to set a high standard for his proceeding work and from what I’ve seen and heard, he continues to achieve and exceed this standard.