Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Pamela Hart, Stephen Pearlman
1998, 85 Minutes, Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Patterns exist everywhere: in nature, in science, in religion, in
business. Max Cohen (played by Sean Gullette) is a mathematician searching
for these patterns in everything. Yet, he's not the only one, and everyone
from Wall Street investors, looking to break the market, to Hasidic Jews,
searching for the 216-digit number that reveals the true name of God, are
trying to get their hands on Max. —
After watching Pi, I dug up my old copy of Carl Sagan's excellent Broca's Brain book to reread a chapter from it. Yup, Pi is one of those movies - the type that makes you think and want to know more about the subject at hand. If you're the type who prefer not to use any of the little grey tykes situated between your ears, then you'd probably be better off giving Pi a skip and renting
Universal Soldier - the Return instead.
The chapter from Sagan's book is titled Norman Bloom - Messenger of God and is about numerology. Numerology is basically about finding mathematical patterns everywhere. There is a well-known e-mail doing the rounds on the Internet about the many similarities between the assassination of John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln. If you're a Douglas Adams fan then you might have come across a list that lists the various occurrences of the number '42' everywhere. For example, not only is '42' the answer supplied to the question "what is the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything" in the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy novels, but it is also agent Fox Mulder's apartment number in the
X-Files TV series! And so on.
Of course, one's response to all this will probably justifiably be "so what?" The occurrence of the number '42' doesn't mean anything. If one should go looking for such occurrences, one will no doubt find many examples - all of them coincidental. Numerology is basically the pseudoscience of finding such mathematical coincidences.
"Filled with some disturbing surrealist imagery stunningly filmed
in Black & White . . ."
On the other hand, such occurrences might just not be
random coincidences - which brings us to Pi - the movie. These occurrences might just be patterns in the chaos, and such patterns have two implications: (1.) they are predetermined, which means that it would prove the existence of a God or creator; (2.) it would be possible to track such patterns and thus predict them, much in the same way future predictions are extrapolations of current trends (like in weather predictions for example; certain amount of rainfall at certain times, etc.)
The central character in Pi is called Max Cohen; a reclusive mathematical genius who might just have come across such patterns in the chaos that surrounds us, a so-called "Theory of Everything" that will of course explain everything as well. His work attracts the attention of a group of Hassidic Jews and a Wall Street company. If Cohen is right, then (1.) not only would the Hassidic Jews be able to empirically prove the existence of God, but also know His true nature, and (2.) it would be possible for the Wall Street company to predict future stock market movements and thus make a fortune.
But is Cohen on the right track? Or is he simply going mad, cloistered in his New York apartment? At some stage in Pi, his former tutor admonishes him that he just might be dabbling in numerology instead of pure mathematics. Is this the case? In Broca's Brain Sagan tells of an eccentric numerologist named Norman Bloom who sent endless printouts of mathematical equations that according to him, proves the existence of God to universities across the States. Sagan disputes this: when
scrutinized closely the numbers mean . . . nothing. Besides, as any theologian will point out: belief in God's existence is an article of faith and not empirical proof. So put away your copies of the Bible Code . . .
Is such a unifying "Theory of Everything" even possible? Is Cohen even close to it? I won't try to answer any of these questions or spoil any of Pi's plot twists and ultimate conclusions. As you might have gathered
Pi is wholly original. In the end its closest cinematic equivalent is David
(Dune) Lynch's first feature Eraserhead, also about a man who might be going insane in the confines of his own apartment.
Like that movie, Pi is also filled with some disturbing surrealist imagery and stunningly filmed in Black & White. Personally I enjoyed Pi more: thanks to its brisk running time of a mere
85 minutes, a clever and fast-moving plot and atmospheric Techno soundtrack. Pi is a very accessible movie and your enjoyment of it is probably dependent on whether you'd see it as a pretentious indie effort or not. Like the person who saw
Pi with me remarked after two minutes into the movie: "This is going to be a weird movie, isn't it?" I nodded agreement, smiling: I happen to like weird . . .
Even if you're the type who are intimidated by maths like me (to this day I insist that my high school maths teacher arrived at class on a broomstick!), then don't fret: adeptness at mathematics isn't a prerequisite for enjoying
Top 100 Sci-Fi
of all time