OLD SCHOOL: Celebrate Pi Day With Darren Aronofsky’s Directorial Debut

It’s Pi Day! (March 14…3.14…get it?) And what better way to pay homage to those first three digits in the number that never ends or repeats than by looking back at the aptly-named “Pi,” director Darren Aronofsky’s first feature film all about one man’s obsession with that pesky mathematical phenomenon.

“Pi” launched Aronofsky’s career, earning him the Directing Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, along with an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay. It was a critical success at the time, and – despite very limited release in theaters – pulled in over $3 million at the U.S. box office. Not bad for a movie made with a $60,000 budget!

Read more about Aronofsky’s feature film debut past the jump!

Those familiar with Aronofsky’s more recent work will be pleased to recognize that much of his style originated with “Pi.” A mathematical calculation unto itself, the psychological drama in the plot twists and builds to almost unbearable tension. The story follows Max Cohen (played by Aronofsky’s friend and Harvard classmate Sean Gullette), a gifted number theorist who suffers from painful cluster headaches. His affliction also causes paranoia, hallucinations and social anxiety disorder, all of which lead him to live like something of a hermit – alone in his apartment with his giant self-built super computer Euclid. Cohen believes everything in nature is connected by numbers, and his compulsive fascination leads him to dabbling in stock market picks.

Max meets a Hasidic Jew, Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman), and helps him with what he believes is mathematical research on the Torah. But appearances are deceiving – he eventually gets mixed up in a terrifying situation, and his genius devolves into madness as his headaches increase in intensity.

It’s easy to see why Aronofsky has enjoyed so much success – “Pi” is a stunning directorial debut. Shot on black and white reversal film, the high contrast of the movie’s look perfectly complements the intense fixation of its narrator. Aronofsky has an uncanny knack for seating you directly inside the brain of a less-than-reliable narrator, strapping you in and taking you along on an oft-uncomfortable, always-fascinating journey.

In the case of “Pi,” we are dually enthralled by – and terrified of – Max’s mind. The screenplay incorporates painfully well-researched notes about mathematics and religion, somehow managing to make both subjects tension-inducing plot points. The film also contains themes that have become a common thread in Aronofsky’s work – elements such as circular/spiral imagery, psychological meltdowns, mutilation of the human body, POV-style camerawork, Clint Mansell-crafted scoring and a main character’s unshakeable quest for perfection.

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