This one has been hanging out on Amazon Prime Video for a while, and this week (July) I decided to give it a look. Interesting thing is I didn’t watch it on the big TV, just brought it up on my computer and sat through the showing at my desk. It’s π, as spelled in the title or rather Π if you want to capitalize it. As you can guess, there’s going to be some math involved. It came out nearly 20 years ago (1998). Details are from Wikipedia.
It’s a hodge-podge of images and scenes, and it’s in monochrome. Think Last Year At Marienbad brought forward 37 (now 56) years, and substitute technology and math for sex and social conflict, and you get the idea. Only Pi doesn’t have all that endless repetition. I will show some screen shots and skim the plot.
Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) lives alone, and he’s a mental aberration. Due to an early medical convulsion his brain is an organic computer, and he performs amazing feats of mental calculation and sees (or at least looks for) patterns everywhere, including within the decimal representation of pi. In fact, that’s how the movie starts out:
And some more. You get the idea.
Max lives alone, and he’s built this rude computer that does amazing things, although I was never able to figure out by watching the movie what made the computer so special. There is talk about finding patterns everywhere, including in π.
Hold it right there. Full disclosure: I have a college degree in mathematics, and my information is there is good logic to conclude π and other irrational numbers do not contain any patterns. Irrational numbers are numbers that are not the quotient of two integers, and this includes numbers like √2, √3, √5, √10, cube root of 15, and so on. Irrational numbers also include the transcendental numbers, such as π, the natural logarithm of 6, the sine of a 61° angle, and also the ever popular e. There are no patterns. But that’s what this movie is all about.
Max spends his days getting the computer to spit out a special number, which significance I was never able to determine during one watch-through. He sits at a lunch counter and scribbles numbers on stock market listings. He has the idea the fluctuations of the market have a deeply-embedded pattern he will be able to deduce, once he has solved his riddle.
He is constantly beleaguered by migraine headaches and convulsions, requiring periodic dosing and injections.
At the lunch counter Max is besieged by Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman) a Jew (Max is a non-religious Jew), who pries into what Max is doing.
He plays go with his friend and mentor Sol Robeson (Mark Margolis). Sol urges Max to quit the hopeless quest. There is no pattern. Max’s work borders on numerology.
Max interacts with neighbors in his apartment building, one being Devi (Samia Shoaib) the woman who lives next door and who flirts with him. He pays her no mind.
A big concern is to predict the stock market, a goal of many and a factor that brings intrigue and danger into Max’s life.
A persistent woman, Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart), keeps trying to get face time with Max to a point he can no longer put her off. Things begin to take on a sinister tone.
Marcy’s friends offer Max the use of a special computer chip, and he uses it to recompute a 216-digit number he previously produced and then threw away. This number is the secret to predicting the stock market. Max is unable to print the number, but he has memorized it. Marcy and her friends want the number, and they put the squeeze on Max.
Lenny’s Jewish friends rescue Max and attempt to force him to reveal the number. It will unlock the secrets of the Torah and restore the Ark of the Covenant. Max refuses to cooperate.
He despairs of the whole business and uses an electric drill to perform a trepanning on his head, since shaved.
At the end, in the park, when the young girl living in his building asks him for various mathematical computations, he is unable to do them, while she performs the operation using her hand calculator.
There are parts I left out, mostly stuff I didn’t understand, such as the squishy thing Max finds on the steps in the subway, said squishy thing that responds amazingly when Max prods it.
This is all about number theory. There no sets, no cosets, no differential equations, and no topological congruencies. There’s lots about Fibonacci series and spirals and golden ratios. Probably a semester’s worth of pure math is lost somewhere in here.