A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 379 – Pi

Pi – March 14th, 2011

Of course we’re watching Pi today. It’s Pi Day, after all (3/14 – get it?) so it seemed like the best plan. We’ve had it marked down as today’s movie since last year when we missed it because the project was new to us and we hadn’t given much thought to planning for holidays and special dates. And I’ve been dreading it ever since. It combines two banes of my existence: math and headaches. And it combines them incredibly well. Now, since I’m notoriously horrible with numbers, I can’t really speak to the actual math in the movie. But I can speak to the headaches. And I can speak to how much of a headache math gives me when I try to focus on it.

I remember watching this in college. We had it at the store Andy and I worked at and it looked fascinating. While I have no facility with math whatsoever, what I do have is a very odd relationship with it. I love the idea of it. I love knowing it’s out there. I love watching people who are good with math do math. It’s beautiful. It’s like art to me. I have a vast appreciation for it while being utterly unable to do it myself. But then too, I wish I could do it. I don’t have any pressing desire to be able to paint or draw, but I do with I could do math. It is immensely frustrating to stare at those metaphorical paints and brushes and not be able to figure out how to make even the simplest art with them. So I went into this movie expecting to be frustrated, but also fascinated. What I wasn’t expecting were the headaches.

The plot of this movie revolves around a single character, Max, and his search for a special 216 digit number that he believes will unlock the secrets and patterns of the world and explain everything. Nature, finance, human life. Everything. He’s also paranoid and plagued with frequent and debilitating headaches. Migraines. They come on suddenly and everything else disappears while Max writhes and screams and suffers. He’s had the headaches since he was a child and stared into the sun after his mother told him not to. He’s also been a math genius for about as long. The movie implies not so much that the two are related as that Max believes they’re related. That’s an important distinction in this movie, I believe, that the things we see and hear from Max are the things he sees and believes, and he’s not precisely lucid all of the time.

Max sees the world through a haze of numbers and headaches and paranoia and sometimes it’s difficult to focus. The number he’s looking for seems like it’s always just out of reach, almost there, on the tip of his tongue or buried in his mind somewhere. He meets two wildly different groups who want the number for their own means: A financial investment firm wants to use it to predict the stock market and a group of Jewish men who are studying the Torah and believe that the number has meaning in Kabbalah and will reveal the name of God. Neither group seems all that concerned with what the obsession with the number is doing to Max, who is slowly but surely breaking down completely. And Max is too paranoid and determined to isolate himself to seek help from the people around him who actually care, like one of his neighbors who leaves him food and tries to help.

The movie is a bit of a blunt instrument. It’s in black and white, utilizes some very overwrought stereotypes and acting from the two antagonistic groups and I’m sure that people who know math better than me can poke holes in it all over the place. And then there are the headaches, which are represented on camera with dizzying spins and shakes and accompanied by a cacophony of buzzing and trilling and high pitched whines. I get headaches like that and if you don’t suffer from them and are curious as to just how bad a headache could be, pop this one in. But despite the heavy-handedness and all, I still enjoy it. It’s an interesting little movie and cool to see as Darren Aronofsky’s early work. It’s just not something I could ever watch on a regular basis.

March 14, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Pi

March 14, 2011

Pi

Happy Pi day! Last year we had just started the project when March fourteenth rolled around and due to poor planning we didn’t end up reviewing this movie back then. We swore, however, that we’d get to it this year, so here we are.

This movie is Darren Aronofski’s Eraserhead; gritty, black & white, and inscrutable. Except that where Eraserhead often feels like it’s simply being weird for the sake of being weird Pi is a movie that is weird in service of trying to say something. It’s a strange sort of mystery thriller about numbers.

I should mention that in a previous life I was for a brief time a math major. I have always enjoyed the purity of playing with numbers and the interesting ways they work together. There is a kind of magic in numbers and this movie touches on it in a way. It’s about a mathematician named Max Cohen who believes there is a pattern hidden in the numbers of the stock market. As he goes deeper and deeper into the numbers they begin to get into his head. Literally in a way.

One of the themes of this movie is how there are numbers in everything. In the curl of a seashell. In the shape of a tree. In our very DNA. Connected to all this we have the notion that numbers are also a part of God. Max encounters a numerologist and kabalist named Lenny in a diner who introduces him to the notion that the Torah can be interpreted mathematically. He says that if you convert every Hebrew character into a number then the words of the Torah act as a sort of mathematical equation. A mysterious math problem directly from God himself. Over the course of the movie Max begins to realize that he has stumbled upon the solution to that equation. It’s a kind of super-number. A key that unlocks all the mysteries of he universe. But not something that a human mind is equipped to understand.

Max is prone to debilitating, horrendous, crushing headaches. He explains in the opening narration that they are a result of staring into the sun when he was a child. He temporarily lost his sight, and when he got it back the headaches began. It’s made clear that trying to understand the number which is supposedly the name of God is like looking into the sun. Max has the mathematical background to understand the number, but it is slowly driving him insane. At the same time he has rival groups attempting to get the number for themselves. There’s a well funded Wall Street company, represented by the always cheerful but slightly sinister and overwhelmingly persistent Marcy Dawson. There are also the Kabal led by Rabbi Cohen who need the number to re-claim the arc of the covenant. Or something.

So Max is slowly losing his mind and at the same time being hunted by these two groups. As things progress he becomes more and more paranoid. His madness manifests itself not just in headaches but in strange visions. He discovers that his closest friend and mentor, Sol (I see what you did there Aronofsky,) has come close to discovering the number himself in the past, but was afraid of what it was doing to him when he did.

It’s a very clever movie, and filmed on an absolute shoe-string. Aronofsky uses the restrictions of his budget to give the movie a sense of claustrophobia. It’s got an aspect of psychological thriller to it. It’s interesting to see Max becoming unhinged as he literally pokes at his brain in an attempt to understand what’s happening to him. I was fascinated when I first saw this as much by Aronofsky’s technique as by the writing and acing. I knew then that he was going to become a force to be reckoned with, and he has proven time and time again that he is unafraid to plumb the depths of human psyche and explore just how dark and dangerous those depths can be.

I’ll leave it to Amanda to explain just how frighteningly perfect his depiction here of a man tortured by migraines is. Do NOT watch this movie if you have a headache.

March 14, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment