a film by Darren Aronofsky

 Ben Shenkman, Mark Margolis, Pamela Hart, Samia Shoaib and Samia Shoaie. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Produced by Eric Watson, Randy Simon and Scott Vogel. Written by Darren Aronofsky. Distributor: Artisan

This little film’s no blockbuster; it didn’t have a big marketing budget or TV hype or G-rated trailers appended to theater releases of "Star Trek: First Contact." No Pi action figures, no Pi T-shirts, no collectible soft drink cups with a big pi printed on ‘em, no Pi first-person-calculator video games.

So like me, you may not have heard about this movie when it first came out. That’s a shame, because I’d bet my granddad’s slide rule it was even more overwhelming and intense in the theaters. Even so, my calculations indicate you’ll want to take a trip to the vid store right now and check it out on the small screen.

Our protagonist, a mathematics genius named Max Coen (Sean Gullette), is a guy with a lot of problems. For one thing, he doesn’t know a pretty girl when she walks right up to him and tries to make time. For another, Max has headaches--serious headaches, the kind of headaches that make a guy try to autoinject a vial or six of high-dose sumatriptan directly into his throbbing temporal lobe before he melts into a pool of agonized goo on the floor of his dingy little bathroom.

But Max’ biggest problem is that he thinks his latest project--an attempt to sort out the complex, fractal dynamics of fluctuations in the chaotic polyorganism known as the stock market--has led him to a Profound Discovery, a number that holds the key to the underpinnings of all existence.

Max’ mentor Saul Robeson, a broken, crippled genius (played brilliantly by Mark Margolis) has been over this road before, and doesn’t want Max to end up the same way. But there’s no stopping a man who’s convinced he holds the Philosopher’s Stone within his grasp. Nor, for that matter, is there any way to hold off the nasty people waiting in the wings who think Max may really be on to something. Before he comes to the end of his nightmare--and ours--Max finds himself alternating between the clutches of shadowy corporate greedbags interested in using his discovery for the rape of Wall Street and an equally shadowy gang of esoteric rabbis intent on relieving Max of his divine numerical revelation. Director/writer Darren Aronofsky films it all in a grainy, overbleached style full of starkness and shadow, vibrant with paranoia. It’s relentlessly intense, yet parts of the movie resonate with a terrifying absurdity--Kabbalists abducting rogue mathematicians in the middle of the night, for example....

This is terrific stuff, subtle and horrifying and hilarious, a treatise not on the mathematical principles themselves (which don’t bear close inspection), but on the role of numbers in the human universe: ephemeral subjects of the purest and most rigorous of human disciplines, tools of the most profane and corrupted of human enterprises, mysteries at the heart of the most sublime and powerful of human yearnings.

And a spectacular cure for headaches.

Douglas R. Hofsteder meets Franz Kafka.

Sullydog approves. .

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