At the tail end of last year, I decided that I would take part in a series headed up by Ryan @ The Matinee. Many of you bloggers know that this is The Blindspot Challenge. The idea is for us bloggers to pick twelve movies that I we haven't seen and make a point to watch and review them, one a month, throughout the year. Things were going along with no problems as I posted about the first five movies on my list, getting us through May. Then June happened. Circumstance changed. A friend of my wife's needed help so we agreed to do so. One of the things I've pretty much lost in the deal is autonomy over the TV in the living room after 9 or 10 o'clock. Most nights, my wife is in bed before me so I'm not going into the bedroom and trying to watch a movie while she sleeps. So, needless to say, this has tremendously slowed the rate at which I watch movies. The first casualties were my Blindspot movies. I just couldn't seem to get to them. Ryan likes to have these posts up before the last Tuesday of the month. With far less time in front of the TV, any opportunities were used to watch more recent fare. Without fail, on the late on the last Monday of June, July, and August I suddenly realized I hadn't watched my Blindspot movie for the month, looked at the time, and said "Screw it, I'll make it up next month."
Though the population at my house hasn't diminished just yet, sigh, a solution of sorts arose. My son got a job in retail. This means, there is a decent stretch of hours on the weekend when I'm home and there is an available TV just sitting there. It's not ideal, since it's an old tube TV, but the DVD player works and all of my Blindspot selections are from my own collection. As long as my boy can maintain employment, my Blindspot game is strong. What I'd like to do is catch up and watch four of them this month (the three months I missed plus one for September). That's going to be a challenge so I won't promise that, but I'm going for it. And it starts with this movie...
When I decided to take part in this series, Pi was one of the first films I knew I was going to watch. For starters, it's a critically acclaimed film. It's also known to be a fairly cryptic film. Both sound good to me. The former is self-explanatory and the latter sounds like a worthwhile challenge. The other thing it had going for it is the director, Darren Aronofsky. Of the six feature films he has directed at the time of the writing, I've seen four. One of them is on my movies I consider to be the best ever made (Requiem for a Dream). I absolutely love two more (The Wrestler, Black Swan). The last one, I kinda hate (Noah), but still admire the ambition of what he was trying to accomplish. Pi is his debut film and some would argue that it's still his magnum opus. I had to see it.
The story begins with Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) telling us through narration about the time he stared directly into the sun as a little kid. It didn't seem to work out too well as he spent several days in the hospital. However, it seems that ever since that time, he's been a mathematical genius. For further evidence, we see him solve large multiplication and division problems instantly in his head at the provocation of the little girl who lives in the same apartment building he does. Not surprisingly, it's quickly evident that Max is a mathematician by trade. However, being a genius has taken its toll on him. He's antisocial and obsessed with finding patterns with the seemingly limitless calculation of Pi. His only friend is Sol (Mark Margolis), a guy who was once similarly obsessed with Pi, but now doles out advice while playing board games. Max is also using his gift for math to try and find patterns in the stock market, cracking that code, if you will. He's not trying to get rich. He just wants to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem. During all of this, he stumbles acrosgs a 216 digit number that seems to be of major importance, but he doesn't know why. Max tries to figure this out while avoiding some shady people who are trying to get the number from him.
For his debut, Aronofsky gives us a film that is equal parts fascinating and frustrating. As it plays out, I spent long stretches of time sitting there dumbfounded. It wasn't the type of dumbfounded where I was anxiously awaiting the answers. It was the type where I just sat there as it started to wash over me. It started to lose me. I realized that what I was seeing was deeply metaphorical, but I hadn't bought in enough to really examine it. In part, it was because Max is a character that keeps everyone at arms' length, viewer included. The film itself is only all too happy to oblige him. Instead of riding along with Max through his life and getting to know him, he's just outside our reach like an animal on exhibit at the zoo. In effect, we watch him pace back and forth unable to get out while we're unable to get in. We're curious about him and his plight, but fall short of actually caring.
The visuals also present some difficulties in terms of becoming engrossed in the film. The gritty, grainy look of things would be a perfect choice on its own. However, it's also in black and white. I'm not one of those people who just doesn't do black and white. I just prefer there to be a certain crispness to it that takes advantage of contrasting light. That's not the case in Pi. Dark spots on the film and actual shadows run together giving everything a murky quality. During a number of scenes, it was just plain hard to see. This becomes another barrier put up between us and our protagonist. Why develop the emotions needed to get us invested in the hero when the film itself dares us to check out?
Pi eventually draws us in a bit when the film takes on a spy movie motif. He's pursued by covert agents of some sort on one side and some guys trying to crack an ancient religious code on the other. Max truly wants nothing to do with either, but resorts to trying to play them against one another. It is at this juncture when we finally gain some sense of sympathy for him. We see him as a pitiful man burdened with a tremendous ability. However, the film still withholds as much information as it can while moving the plot forward a bit at a time so we're never completely out of the dark. It maximizes the effect of an ending that seems to come out of left field, but is oddly logical. Extreme. But logical. It adds layers to all that was happening before it and crystallizes things to a degree. However, it's not enough to save a movie that is a chore to sit through for many of its 84 minutes.
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