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p (Pi)
(1998) (Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Mild Moderate Mild Moderate Minor
Minor None Moderate None Extreme
Smoking Tense Family
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Talk About
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Sci-Fi/Drama: A brilliant, but troubled mathematician tries to figure out the mathematical pattern that controls Wall Street's financial market.
Max Cohen (SEAN GULLETTE) is a brilliant, but troubled recluse with a penchant for mathematics. Living by his maxim that mathematical patterns control everything in nature, Max is close to figuring out the pattern that controls Wall Street's financial market. Shunning the friendly advances of his neighbor, Devi (SAMIA SHOAIB), and not heeding the advice from his elderly mentor, Sol Robeson (MARK MARGOLIS), to take a much needed break, Max rapidly pursues this quest. Blinding, and often hallucinatory headache attacks, however, hamper his efforts.

That, coupled with some sinister Wall Street figures, led by Marcy Dawson (PAMELA HART) who wants his eventual solution, and a group of Hasidic Jewish numerologists, fronted by Lenny Meyer (BEN SHENKMAN) who believes he may have the answer to God's true identity, slowly begins to drive Max crazy. As he finds that a mysterious mathematical string of 216 digits is repeating itself in his and other's work, he wonders if his sanity will last long enough to uncover the solution he's seeking.

With no spaceships, monsters, or traditional sci-fi material, this film will probably only appeal to older teens who are fans of more cerebral, art house fare.
For language and some disturbing images.
  • SEAN GULLETTE plays a brilliant recluse who's mathematical acumen is equaled by his descent into mental madness.
  • MARK MARGOLIS plays Max's elderly mentor who tries to persuade his former student to decrease his intensity and take a break before he drives himself crazy.
  • BEN SHENKMAN plays a Jewish numerologist who has a vested religious interest in Max's findings and eventually becomes desperately violent.


    OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
    As one can probably tell from this film's plot description, this is no ordinary sci-fi film. It doesn't have any spaceships or laser guns, or aliens or futuristic settings. Shot on an unbelievably minuscule budget of $60,000, writer/director Darren Aronofsky has instead delivered a decidedly cerebral and assuredly thought-provoking debut feature. While it may not be to everyone's liking and may itself prove to be maddening to others, one thing is unmistakable. It's doubtful you'll see any other film this year that's as disturbingly mesmerizing as this one.

    Filmed on an extremely grainy, black and white film stock, the film exudes a nightmarish paranoid quality throughout. Kafka-esque in its approach, the film is also reminiscent of early David Lynch work as well as the great silent horror pictures of the 1920's. Limited by a budget that wouldn't cover much of a catering fee on a normal Hollywood film, Aronofsky has been forced (by necessity) to utilize something most big budget filmmakers have totally overlooked or even forgotten.

    And that's the audience's imagination. What made those old horror pictures so great, and what Hitchcock and other masters so effectively utilized during their careers was the ability to allow the moviegoer to "fill in the blanks" so to speak. In the pre-1960's era when directors weren't allowed to show everything up on the screen like you can today, one's imagination was just as important as any celluloid element.

    Aronofsky (whose efforts won him the director's award in the drama category at this year's Sundance Film Festival) takes that to extremely effective, but near often maddening levels. Not only does Matthew Libatique's overexposed and then shadowy cinematography keep the audience constantly off balance, but the mysterious plot also manages to keep everyone guessing as to what's really occurring. Are spooky, near supernatural events popping up all around Max? Or is he just hallucinating as his overworked mind finally begins to short circuit? Then there's the possibility that all of what transpires never really occurs in the first place.

    Part of what also makes the film so mesmerizing is its cerebral quality. This is easily what would be labeled as a thinking person's film, and it delivers many thought provoking, but occasionally creepy, intelligent moments. One of the more powerful ones occurs when Lenny, a Jewish numerologist, explains that in Hebrew, the letters all have numerical equivalents. As he demonstrates to Max, the sum of the numbers for "man" (3) and "woman" (41) equals the number for "child" (44). Beyond that, the film also focuses on the mathematical genius of the ancient Japanese board game of "Go," and the trials and tribulations of other ancient mathematicians.

    Combining Clint Mansell's hypnotically pulsating sci-fi score, Oren Sach's purposefully jumpy editing, and the nightmarish black and white photography, Aronofsky has also delivered enough of a paranoid thriller to please fans of that segment of the sci-fi genre. Since we're never sure what's real and what's a hallucination, we easily find ourselves on the same playing field with the main character who's troubled by that same problem.

    Actor Sean Gullette (making his debut) delivers a compelling enough performance that elicits enough compassion from the audience that we really do end up caring for his plight. A perfect character study of a man so obsessed with his quest that his societal, physical and mental aspects of his life rapidly deteriorate, Gullette's performance is often unsettling to watch, but always captivating.

    The supporting performances, from Mark Margolis (a bit player in many films) as Max's mentor, to Ben Shenkman (another bit player) as a man who wants Max's findings for profound religious reasons, are good but not outstanding. Delivered in a stripped-down fashion, they do, however, collectively -- and quite effectively -- lend to the mysterious atmosphere engulfing the film.

    Although this picture won't get very far or even be seen by many film goers, it's one heck of a calling card for Aronofsky and will easily get him noticed by the studios. One can only hope, however, that he doesn't forget or forgo what he's so successfully and efficiently delivered in this film.

    With the inevitable big budgets that will be dangled in front of him, it will be a true test as to whether he'll be able to retain his imaginative and creative control over his next picture. While this film nearly spins out of control near the end, and obviously isn't for everyone and may be too bizarre and/or intense for others, it is a powerful and often brilliant piece of filmmaking. We give "Pi" a 7.5 out of 10.

    While it's doubtful many kids (or adults for that matter) will have the chance or desire to see this film, here's a quick look at the content. While teens might groove on the bizarre, nightmarish quality that permeates the film, that and the pulsating soundtrack and odd, painful attacks the main character suffers from might unsettle other viewers. Profanity is extreme with 10 "f" words and an assortment of others, and some brief, but muffled sexual sounds are twice heard (or imagined) coming through the wall. Finally, although the movie is filmed in black and white, there is some blood, and on two occasions a human brain is seen.

    Of SPECIAL NOTE, for those concerned with strobe-like flashing on the screen, there is a brief instance where this occurs later in the film.

  • Max continuously takes some sort of medication (in pill form) for his debilitating headaches and attacks. He also shoots what may be adrenaline (or a similar substance) into his arm and, in one scene, his head (although no needle is involved).
  • We see Max several times with a bloody nose (in black and white, as is everything else listed).
  • Max sees a man standing in the subway who has blood dripping from his hand. Max goes over to investigate and finds a pool of blood along with a trail of blood on the floor. He then spots a human brain on the steps and cautiously pokes at it.
  • Max finds a brain in his bathroom sink and proceeds to smash it to bits.
  • A man takes a power drill and briefly drills into his own head. We briefly see the insertion as well as some blood spraying out.
  • Max briefly comments to Lenny that he doesn't really believe in religion.
  • Several competing groups want Max only for the knowledge that's in his head and don't care about his as a person.
  • Max's headache attacks and other moments where he gets the tremors might be unsettling to some viewers.
  • Max sees (or imagines) someone (or something) trying to get through his front door as eerie music plays and the door rattles.
  • Max sees a man on the subway who, moments later, mysteriously vanishes.
  • Max sees a man standing in the subway who has blood dripping from his hand. Max goes over to investigate and finds a pool of blood along with a trail of blood on the floor. He then spots a human brain on the steps and cautiously pokes at it resulting in loud, piercing sounds.
  • Max is pursued and assaulted by several groups of people in a several minute scene.
  • A man takes a power drill and briefly drills into his own head (briefly seen).
  • Handgun: Aimed at Max by another person.
  • Phrases: "Bastard" and "Screw you."
  • Max occasionally comments about looking into the sun as a kid (after his mother told him not to) and nearly going blind, but his vision seems okay during the film.
  • A man takes a power drill and briefly drills into his own head (briefly seen).
  • None.
  • The film has a near constant and somewhat eerie pulsating sci-fi soundtrack that's moderately spooky.
  • None.
  • At least 10 "f" words, 5 "s" words, 2 hells, 1 damn, and 5 uses of "G-damn" and 1 use of "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • Max hears or imagines hearing some muffled sexual sounds (moaning and talking) through his wall from next door on two occasions.
  • A traditional Leonardo da Vinci scientific sketch shows male full frontal nudity.
  • Lenny smokes a few times.
  • None.
  • That people can become too obsessed with work (or anything) causing other parts of their lives to crumble.
  • Whether complex processes or things can be broken down into calculated patterns. As such, Max believes that "Mathematics is the language of nature. Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers. If you graph the numbers in any system, patterns emerge. Therefore, there are patterns everywhere in nature."
  • Max removes the motherboard from his computer, throws it to the floor and stomps on it.
  • Max repeatedly hits his own head during another headache attack.
  • During another attack he bangs his head against a mirror and then smashes it with his fist.
  • Marcy smacks Max on the face and her thugs then chase him. He then hits a pursuer on the head with something from inside a market (a can of food?). Finally, they corner him again and one of the thugs aims a gun at him. Lenny then hits that person and escapes with Max.
  • Later, a man strikes Max and he bites a man on the arm, causing the first man to hit him again.
  • Max finds a brain in his bathroom sink and proceeds to smash it to bits.
  • A man takes a power drill and briefly drills into his own head (briefly seen).

  • Reviewed June 12, 1998

    Other new and recent reviews include:

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