Friday July 23, 1998
Thisis as odd a movie as you will ever see. Roberta, Niven, and I saw it at the NuArt, a theatre on the other side of the freeway from Westwood and UCLA. That was the only place showing it, and the 8:00 PM showing was sold out. Most of the audience seemed to be college age, and we would guess many were film students. The Director, Darren Aronofsky, made a short appearance before the movie and promised to be back to discuss it after we had seen it. We didn't want to spoil his moment, so we went to a very nice Italian restaurant and espresso place across Santa Monica from the theatre. I don't remember the name, but I can recommend the restaurant. Just a bit west of the NuArt on the north side of Santa Monica Blvd.
PI got everything wrong; which makes you wonder what you were supposed to believe. Did the writers and director KNOW they had most of it all wrong? If so, that's one picture. If not, that's another. It's important, and I can't decide.
That is: Clearly Max, the main character, is not entirely sane. He is supposed to be a brilliant mathematician, but you seldom see him do mathematics, and what math he does isn't Number Theory although that is supposed to be his field. He uses a "mainframe" computer that consists of a great deal of boondoggle and a big -- wait for it -- frame containing an electronic circuit board of some kind. The telephone is rotary dial, and most of the picture seems to be set in the dial phone era, but you can't be sure. At one point he uses a 5 1/4" floppy disk, which would set the time in the 80's before 3 1/4 became ubiquitous. His computer displays are monochrome but then so is the movie. Mostly his -- wait for it -- mainframe, called that by his old professor, is a pile of junk that couldn't possibly work. He repairs it with a quarter inch electric drill.
He hears voices. Sometimes he hears the voice of the girl next door in the throes of sexual passion. At one point she is talking typical prostitute talk. When you meet the girl she seems nothing like that, and in fact is a bit stuck on Max, whom she says needs a mother. Whenever he hears, or imagines he hears through the wall the sounds of the girl making love, he has attacks of his super migraines.
Max and his old professor play Go. They play awful Go; even an amateur player like me can see that they are making bad moves.
The Wall Street people act in a very odd manner.
The Talmudic scholars in the picture begin by talking in an odd but believable manner, but eventually one, identified as a Rabbi Kohane, gives an entirely silly account of the destruction of the Herodic Temple by the Romans, along with some nonsense that is supposed to be Cabalistic. Or is it? I am no authority on the Cabala, but I know enough to know that much of what he said is nonsense. It's also bad history: the Romans didn't burn the Temple, they razed it and used the rubble to fill in between Temple Mount and Calvary, then built a Temple of Venus on top; thus marking the site of the Crucifixion and the site of the Holy Sepulcher in a way that made it easy for St. Helen to find. Surely Aronovsky knows this?
In other words: I can't figure out what I am supposed to believe in this picture. No one acts in a rational or competent manner, and nothing that is done is done in a competent or believable manner. Now is this art, or incompetence? That is: am I supposed to believe that computers can be fixed with a quarter inch drill, and that a secret chip will plug into this menage of junk and make it into a powerful supercomputer? Am I supposed to believe that Max and his old professor are geniuses when they in fact can't play Go as competently as I could teach you to play in a week? Am I supposed to believe the walls are thin and the girl next door engages in noisy sex, or is this all in Max's head? Am I supposed to believe that Max has actually uncovered some secret of the universe and is predicting the stock market, and has come to the attention of important Wall Street people who act the way all left wing film makers believe Wall Street people act? Were these supposed to be Talmudic scholars only the writers just got it all wrong, or were they supposed to be a bunch of clowns and lunatics pretending to be Cabalists?
I could go on, but surely the point is made? While there is plenty of potential to be interesting in this film, they have so blurred the edge between art and reality that you can't tell if the entire picture takes place in Max's head, or if some of it was supposedly real. I expect there are some who will say that was the point of the picture. My point is that with no anchor in reality I can't tell if the Director has done a super job of confusing his audience, or is just not smart enough to know you can't fix a computer with a quarter inch drill. Or maybe he just doesn't care. But if he doesn't, why should I?
Hollywood, July 23, 1998