Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Pi

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, March 23, 2009

“The scene is supposed to be funny, but I think most people just get creeped out.”

Special features

Behind-the-Scenes Footage7
Cast Information3
Commentary Track7
Deleted Scenes5
Math Lesson4
Music Video6
Production Notes4

If you were God, and you wanted to leave a message for your creation, where would you leave it? This was a very odd movie reminiscent of David Lynch. About a man who is searching for the formula, or number, that underlies all reality, including the stock market. We could certainly use that one today…

RecommendationPossible Purchase
DirectorDarren Aronofsky
WritersDarren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette, Eric Watson
Movie Rating7
Transfer Quality8
Overall Rating7
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Search for Truth

“When I was a little kid, my mother told me not to stare into the sun.” So begins Max Cohen, the narrator and main character of Darren Aronofsky’s mathematical psycho-thriller. The tale spins out of his youth like a golden spiral throughout the movie.

After his near-blindness experience staring at the sun, Max started getting painful, debilitating headaches; he may also have become a whiz with numbers. Numbers practically control him; there’s a kid in his apartment building who enjoys asking him math questions. She asks him “73 divided by 22” as he walks out the door. “3 dot 3 18 18 18 18” he says as he leaves, and he keeps repeating it out the door and into the street.

Max is a mathematician searching for the patterns that make up the world. He seeks to show that the universe itself is a number pattern, and that the pattern can be discovered. He uses the stock market to mine the secret of the universe: it’s system as big as the world itself, supposedly unpredictable. If he can predict it, he’ll have found the secret numbers of the world. Max is looking for the patterns and cycles in life. (Trivial story: I started writing this review in 1999, and made the crack that finding the secret underlying the stock market is something we could use today. In between, the stock market rose considerably, but now ten years later, the crack still works.)

Hands of Go

The hands of God at the beginning of time.

Max has already made some amazing breakthroughs in stock market analysis, enough that market analysts know about him and want his knowledge. But Max isn’t interested in money, except as it furthers his search for the pattern.

Max’s search is a search for order. His mentor argues that Max is latching onto random events. Max might even agree. What is the nature of randomness? What does being random really mean? Randomness often appears to have a pattern, but the pattern is never predictable. But if there’s a secret pattern to the universe…

Max and his mentor play Go as they discuss his work. Their games resemble the game of life. The Go board is used as a metaphor for the universe. In the game of Go, the number of possible games may exceed the number of atoms in the universe. When the game begins it is completely unpredictable. As the game winds down, however, the game’s progress becomes more and more predictable. If the universe is analogous, then the secret of the universe, the secret of life, will be easier to find when the world’s about to end.

“I’m not interested in religion,” Max says. But the subtitle of the film is “faith in chaos” and his search for the pattern resembles similar searches by religious numerologists. Max meets a group of Kabbalists who see this number as the voice of God; knowledge of it burns. Max’s teacher suffered a stroke when he came too close to the number. Max’s own health is deteriorating. His migraines are getting worse and the hallucinations following them more real.

Holy of Holies

The Holy of Holies

This is a very, very good movie. The actors are extremely good in their roles, especially Max’s Sean Gullette. Clint Mansell’s music is tightly woven into the movie; it’s frenzied, dark, and eerie.

Darren Aronofsky’s commentary track is packed with stories about why scenes went the way they did, and how they were done. It was extremely low budget, with a Macintosh for the background graphics, and the coffee shop owner playing the coffee shop owner, etc. Lots of guerilla film-making in the New York scenes.

There’s another commentary track with Sean Gullette, who besides playing Max was Aronofsky’s college friend and long-time partner in the making of the movie. He provides some insight into his method acting mindset and to the other things happening around the set.

Recommendation: Possible Purchase

DirectorDarren Aronofsky
WritersDarren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette, Eric Watson
ActorsSean Gullette, Mark Margolis
MusicClint Mansell
Length1 hour, 25 minutes
Spoken languageEnglish
Special FeaturesBehind-the-Scenes Footage, Cast Information, Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Math Lesson, Music Video, Production Notes, Trailer
More links

If you enjoyed Pi…

If you enjoy cyberpunk, you might also be interested in Dark City, The Matrix, Blackout, The Futurological Congress, and The Heretic.