Debuts Blogathon: Darren Aronofsky – Pi (1998)

Today’s entries in the Debuts blogathon comes courtesy of KaramelKinema with a look at Darren Aronofsky’s Pi. KaramelKinema is a great looking blog with plenty of great content to back it up. Head over and have a look if you haven’t already checked it out. After reading this, obviously…


Pi (1998)

(1) Mathematics is the language of nature,
(2)  Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers, and
(3) There are patterns everywhere in nature.

These are the three believes that our protagonist, of Darren Aronofsky’s first debut feature, believed in. Maximillian Cohen (Sean Gullette) is a number theorist and mathematical genius, he is looking for a formula that can be the answer of anything in the world, from key to predict the stock market to unravel the secrets of the universe through the means of numbers. Max isolated himself from normalcy in order to decode these mathematical pattern he believed in, to understand the universe. Through conversations over Go, Fibonacci Sequences and Golden Ratio, and divine numerical breakthrough from Torah and the 216 letter name of God, Max suffers from extreme apophenia. Pi is a study in one genius descend into madness as he was driven by his obsession to find enlightenment and order within the chaotic universe.


Aronofsky made a script that made all these weird element works and giving a lot of intensity to the characters and the world they lived in. There were repetitive lines narrated by Max, as he recount his childhood experiences and announce his activities for the day or his scientific findings. It allows us to understand his habits and routines, a contrast to his more erratic behaviour later in the film as he was haunted by his own paranoia. The thing about Aronofsky films are how open it is to be interpreted by its viewers, and Pi is no different. As Max grew closer to understanding the secret of numerology patterns he believed in, we can see how greatly it affects him, and lead him to his ultimate decision to lobotomize himself as he learn the secrets that are too great for him and something he’s not supposed to be privy about.

Dark and intensely fascinating, Pi (like most of Aronofsky films) might not be everyone’s cup of tea. His films are really more character-driven than plot driven. These characters always seemed so self-destructive psychological journey and made the entire film become somewhat depressingly dark, but they serve a fascinating studies of character that are exhilarating and successfully piqued my interest. Aronofsky film are always surreal and, more often than not, disturbing, these characteristics always featured prominently in all five of his feature films. There’s a connecting theme between his films, I think it’s the study of obsession. Different kind of obsessions of course, nevertheless it all allow us to see all his character succumbs to oblivion as they tried to reach the object of their desire. Weirdly enough, I always found that behind what seems to be a depressing conclusion to his story, each characters always found the bliss that they are looking for, even if the form of the bliss itself might be significantly altered.

Done in black and white film with only $60,000 budget, funded from $100 donations from friends and families, Pi is undeniably a great, albeit audacious, debut. There’s something very in-your-face harshness about Pi, a vision of young director that shows the promise and vision of a modern Auteur, that Aronofsky still has so much to offer. His narrative seems to be so heavy handed at times, but he eventually learned the art of subtlety and refinement in his much later films, especially the last two (The Wrestler and Black Swan).

The film was shot by Matthew Libatique, a cinematographer that later become his frequent collaborators (for all his films, except The Wrestlers). Due to the constricting budget, the film was shot in using montages and intense short shots, a technique which was also used later in his sophomore feature Requiem of a Dream, but somehow contributes to the suspense factor of the film.  The black and white shots have a very high contrast and grainy, combined with the quick shots and editing, it made me feel unease and huge discomfort, perfect when combined with the intended mood that Aronofsky going for, allowing us to empathize with Max as he was victimized by his paranoia and given surrealistic nature of the story. The suspenseful nuance of Pi is enriched by the bold film score courtesy of Clint Mansell, who collaborated with Aronofsky on all of his films and whose career was launched from scoring this film.

Pi, a psychological thriller at heart, is an auspicious debut from Aronofsky, since then the director has been delivering remarkable subsequent films over the years. Aronofsky films always has a deep intricacy weaved into it through combination of visual semantics and narratives that sparks discussion and can be further explored by its viewers. How can I not be in love with his films?

Over at Three Rows Back today you can read an excellent piece on The Pleasure Garden, the debut feature from the master himself, Alfred Hitchcock written by Melissa from The Soul of the Plot. Head over there right now to give it a read.

Tomorrow on this very site you can read a superb piece by Nick from The Cinematic Katzenjammer on Duncan Jones’s excellent sci-fi debut, Moon. Don’t miss it!

Meanwhile, you can check out the rest of the entries in the Debuts Blogathon here.

Tagged , , , , , ,

13 thoughts on “Debuts Blogathon: Darren Aronofsky – Pi (1998)

  1. vinnieh says:

    Just wanted to say I’m loving reading this blogathon. I’m gutted I missed it but I will try and enter some blogathons in the future.

  2. Thanks so much for getting involved, it’s a really great piece. Not a film I’ve seen but I’m intrigued to check it out now.

  3. ckckred says:

    Nice review. I’ve only seen parts of it and remember being mesmerized. It’s about time I watch the entire thing.

  4. I forgot all about this film; need to see it now! Great review.

  5. Naomi says:

    Great one, bb! Need to really watch Requiem now, don’t I? 😉

  6. sati says:

    Awesome write up! To this day I cannot believe how cheap this movie cost – the cinematography has so much flare, Libatique is so good at this and it’s definitely what added a lot of surrealism to the film. A great film but insanely heavy too.

  7. table9mutant says:

    Great review. 🙂 Interesting film – I really need to watch it again.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: