Pi (1998)

This movie is about hubris, obsession, and the search for answers, the search which like Icarus can lead us to fly too close to the sun, to throw cation to the wind. The protagonist Max Cohen is a number theorist in search of the ultimate numerical code. Plagued with migraines, and leading a life punctuated with bouts of mania, he searches for a code in which will unravel the universe of numbers that represents the global economy. 

For the economy is a system, a globe-spanning organism, full of life, and therefore there must be, Max maintains, a code that underpins it. Of course the implication of such a discovery would be earth shattering, and so Max is ever on his guard, paranoid that he is being watched. But watched by who? As the film unfolds we learn of several parties who take an interest in Max or his work: a Jewish sect of Kabala inspired mystics, a Wall Street Firm, and his wise friend, Sol Robeson, who has long given up on the impossible quest himself.

The film is a character study, an exploration of Max’s interior world. Certainly a great deal of the movie happens solely in Max’s head, and distinguishing the “real” from the subjective becomes increasingly difficult as he descends into his mania. In this way, the various forces, the Jews, the capitalist, or his friend, represent distinctive drives at play - a spiritual drive, a materialist drive, a humanizing drive. But ultimately it is just sheer arrogance and self-hubris which fuels his search for knowledge, a knowledge, it transpires, which is not merely underpinning the economy, but underpinning reality itself – a number which is the very name of God. The name of God that Max feels he alone has been found worthy to possess.

Ultimately, complete madness and complete genius coalesce in his coming face to face with the divine, a truth beyond him, and so he destroys the number and his own mathematical ability to repossess such knowledge through self-mutilation. It is akin to the story of Babel, but instead of God slurring the words of humanity to thwart their efforts, Max deems himself unworthy.

The mythological underpinning of this surrealist thriller is the numerology contained in the Kabbalah – the esoteric branch of Judaism. This at its core is a means of overcoming the destructive will of the ego, represented by the self-interested parties in the movie. Instead of self-interest we should collectively seek unification with the divine, the upper force. The film acts as a parable of humanity’s unworthiness as of yet to fulfil this end; humanity’s inability to join with one another and thus overcome our petty desires, our petty hubris.

Lewis ConnollyPi