Darren Aronofsky’s low budget Pi is a finely crafted debut, which shows the director’s stylistic flourishes as well as highlighting his skill at weaving a compelling story out of unconventional subject matters.
On the surface, a black and white thriller about a mathematician (Sean Gullette) searching for the meaning of life in number, may not sound like an exciting way to spend ninety minutes, but Aronofsky creates tension and drama as the main character slowly descends into madness. Pi was a breath of fresh air on the independent film stage when it was first released in 1998, and it still holds up today. We now live in a time when low budget filmmaking is easy, thanks to digital technology, but Pi comes from a time when filmmaker’s with limited funds had to fight for their vision. Every frame of film mattered; every creative choice had to be thought through. Directors like Aronofsky never had the opportunity for a vast amount of retakes because film stock isn’t cheap.
Matthew Libatique’s monochrome cinematography is incredibly textured and grainy – it’s like watching a magnified, moving newspaper photograph. These visuals, coupled with Clint Mansell’s score helps to make Pi feel like a dream. A nightmare. It’s very clear from this first movie that Aronofsky is a man with a unique vision. This, and his subsequent films illustrate that he’s not interested in taking a run of the mill approach to storytelling, he wants to push the boundaries of conventional narrative filmmaking, challenging audience expectations.
It has been 15 years since Pi’s release and the film launched Darren Aronofsky onto the Hollywood scene to much critical acclaim. He’s continued to make film’s on a personal level, but there’s something about Pi that feels like it could only be made by a young man on the outside of the studio system.