February 4, 1999 -- p or "Pi" is a very intense and enigmatic movie about a man being tortured by numbers.
I can relate to this because I was tortured by mathematics as a student in school. I'm not saying it is torture to watch this movie, but it is uncomfortable to watch the pain and suffering this man has to go through on both the physical and psychological levels. In that regard, the movie reminds me of the cult film "Tetsuo," (The Iron Man) in which we see another man going through intense agony, but for far less obvious reasons.
Filmed in very high contrast black and white, the film follows a mathematician who stumbles upon an equation which seems to unlock the secrets of the stock market, God, ants, galaxies, in short, the whole universe. This set of 216 numbers (or was it 218? anyway, it was slightly more than the answer Deep Thought came up with in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.").
One would think this guy, Maximillian Cohen, convincingly portrayed by Sean Gullette is nuts, and he may be, or he might just be a genius. You can't really tell by watching this film. If he is a genius, then that would explain why he's being chased by Jews from a Kabbalah sect who believe he has found the secret name of God, or Yaweh. They also believe the Torah can essentially be interpreted as numbers. It would also explain why he is being chased by heavy-duty Wallstreet types who want his secrets to the stock market.
If these pursuers are real, then Cohen is on to something, or it may be all these people are just figments of Cohen's imagination. Cohen is subject to some kind of periodic seizures that seem to cause him to have visions. He takes all sorts of drugs to combat the painful seizures, but nothing seems to help. All this makes it difficult to tell what may be real or fantasy in the story.
The story seems to be a quest for the ultimate mathematical formula. The closer that Cohen comes to understanding, however, the more frequent his seizures. His mentor, Sol Robeson, played by veteran actor Mark Margolis, warns Cohen that his quest could kill him. Cohen knows he is out on a limb, but he just has to know the answer. Cohen's quest is similar to the attempts everyone makes to find order in the chaos of our everyday lives, but Cohen's quest is much more intense.
The film is enigmatic, but it appears that the mathematical formula is both a curse and a possible salvation for Cohen. It may even prove to be a cure for his illness, but the end of the film is certainly open to more than one interpretation. I found Cohen's quest to be interesting, but it sure made me uncomfortable to watch him writing around and screaming in pain every few minutes. Then again, then the search for truth is often painful, and so is math, for some of us. This film rates a B.
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