Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Cyberpunk Week, Day 4: Pi [1998] (mystery, thriller, arthouse)

Studio: Harvest Filmworks,
Director: Darren Aronofsky,
Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky,
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Arthouse,
Starring: Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Pamela Hart, Stephen Pearlman, Samia Shoaib

After praising one obscure and two famous cyberpunk works, let's go back again to something obscure, but good. Pi happens to be the directorial debut of now-famous Darren Aronofsky, whom most of the viewers know by such works as The Fountain, Requiem For A Dream and Black Swan. It's not exactly a cyberpunk film in the classic sense, rather an experimental independent low-budget arthouse thriller with some sci-fi elements thrown in.

A genius tormented by his ingenuity.

Sean Gullette plays the role of Max Cohen, a mathematician unwillingly obsessed by discovering the entirety of Pi number. After several weeks of exhausting calculations and his computer literally burning out, he accidentally stumbles upon the treasure he was seeking, and afterwards gets followed by the Hasidic Jewish activists and the Wall Street stock keepers' agents - the former believe that true name of God is hidden within the Pi, and the latter want to use Max for predicting the stock market dynamics. How will he deal with all this mess and what will he have to sacrifice? Is the idea of gaining the ultimate knowledge of any sorts really all that exciting, and whether it makes sense to live your life further, knowing there's nothing more left to learn?

One of the few characters that Max consistently interacts with.

Max is neither a classic film noir (anti)hero, nor he is a classic dystopian punk. He's just a regular guy who happens to have extremely strong math skills which drive him insane, causing attacks of paranoia, terminal social awkwardness and hallucinations. And already living with all this shit in his mind, one day he discovers the most valuable sequence of digits in the Universe, printed right there on a sheet of paper, and things descend into madness even further.

A buildup to the most (in)famous scene.

As you can notice, the movie is shot in black and white, which is an interesting artistic decision. The cinematography really kicks ass, accurately portraying awkward, obsolete, rusty technology intermixed with dark and uninviting urban in- and exteriors. Some shots are slow and atmospheric, while others are full of fast editing and shaky cam, perfectly reflecting the paranoid atmosphere. Clint Mansell's harsh industrial soundtrack perfectly blends in the general structure, adding to the neurotic imagery.

This movie is arthouse, but coherent.

The actors do a real good job, too - aside of the main character, my faves are Sol Robeson, played by Mark Margolis, who is sort of a mentor to Max, giving him advice and hinting on the resolutions to tight situations, and for some reason, Pamela Hart as Marcy Dawson, the Wall Street agent. She's such a shark, offering her help to Max only to expose more evidence that they only need the numbers from him, not him.

And you say the Linux kernel recompilation is hard.

The icing on a cake is the low-tech machinery used by our hero for assistance in the research. It's just a mess of wires and smoking circuit boards, complete with the typewriter keyboard and prehistoric CRT monitor. It's so fascinating to watch Max wandering around this electronic monstrosity, fixing the wires and preparing to print black text on a blank sheet of paper, as if it was a sacred ritual of sorts. I wonder why everybody (at least in the mainstream media) hasn't gone often for this retro-decaying aesthetic, probably with the exceptions of Blade Runner, Brazil and A Detective Story from Animatrix.

Dat computah!

Overall, as far as independent movies go, Pi is a quality work, genuinely thrilling and very interesting to watch. The characters are fleshed out, the visual decisions are trying very hard to stay away from cliche, and it's just so memorable without just hammering the message into the viewer's head. It's very accepting and worth a watch any day by the 'serious' sci-fi fans - if you got the message, great; if not - it's either way a good movie with great storyline that can be followed just okay. No wonder why Pi is still regarded as one of Mr Aronofsky's strongest works, and in fact it's so well-known and demanded that it was even released on DVD in Russia and Ukraine - of course I had to grab a copy!