Monday, March 24, 2014

ARONOFSKY WEEK - Pi (1998), A Film of Obsession on Both Sides of The Camera

Pi is a film about obsession and determination, both in front of and behind the camera.  This was Darren Aronofsky's breakout directorial effort, the hit of the 1998 Sundance FIlm Festival, and a testament to what Aronofsky was capable of as a filmmaker.  Raw, spare, and small, Pi was made on a budget of $60,000 which Aronofsky mainly collected from friends and family.  He promised $150 back on their investment of $100 if the film was purchased at Sundance.  Artisan bought the film for $1,000,000, and the rest is history.

All of Darren Aronofsky's pictures have focused on a character's obsession in one form or another.  Pi is perhaps the most intimately obsessive film of them all, telling the story of a man driven mad by his own mind.  Sean Gullette plays Max, a mathematician who hasn't time for most people.  Max is a mathematician, and is working on figuring out the ultimate code, a key into understanding nature, the universe, even the stock market.  He is a mathematician who sees numerical patterns everywhere, and whose fanatical examination of numerology has driven him away from society.  There are people in his building in New York, like a woman and a young child, who try their best to interact with Max, but he is less than interested.

Max's apartment is a labyrinthine maze of complicated computers and devices trying to capture the pattern to break the world wide open.  He has a friend, Sol (Mark Margolis), whom he plays a game with that is more complicated than chess.  One day in a diner he meets an Hasidic Jew named Lenny, who may have more on his mind than picking Max's complex brain.  A woman calls Max one day claiming she is an employee for a Wall Street stock analysis firm and would like him to come talk about a consultant position.

The code Max is trying to unlock goes, in his opinion, beyond the realm of comprehension.  This is not a code to unlock only the stock market, but the very essence of nature itself; he is unlocking the code to God.  As these external figures begin to show interest in his work, Max begins to grow even more paranoid than he already is on a daily basis.  Both the stock firm and the Jews seem more and more intent on doing harm to Max to try and figure out what he has uncovered in his obsessive study.  But, as the film unfolds, certain aspects of these external influences begin to cast doubt upon their very existence.  Does the Hasidic Jew truly want to get into Max's head?  Is the woman from the stock firm really wanting to hire him for a job, or is she trying to do him harm?  As he gets closer to unlocking the code - or so he thinks - Max begins to slip farther and farther from his own sanity until desperation sends him to the most shocking moment of the film.

Pi was filmed in so many admirable ways.  First, it was a picture made out of desire from Aronofsky.  It was also created daringly, as many of the external scenes in New York were filmed without a permit and with a lookout to spot curious police in the area.  While the option to shoot the film in stark black and white may have been borne from necessity, it is also the perfect palette for a film about a man who cannot see the nuances of the world and visualizes everything in a two-tone existence.  You can feel the energy and determination of Aronofsky's direction, which bleeds into the story at hand perfectly.  Pi would be the catapult for Darren Aronofsky's career, and even today is one of the most ambitious and energetic debut films of an established director.  It also happens to emphasize the obsessive nature of his characters which paint the canvas of each and every one of his films.