Tuesday, November 27, 2007

PI


Movie of the week:
PI

God is not an exact science …….

I have friends who tell me I’m going to hell for some of the things I say. I tell them that if God can’t take a joke, then he’s not worth the belief. This generally doesn’t change their mind concerning my demise. The following quote was recently brought to my attention. It’s from the Old Testament of the Bible: Kings I, chapter 7, verse 23. God gives Solomon instructions on how to build portions of his palace.

And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.

Apparently, according to God, PI equals 3 (30 cubits divided by 10 cubits). Not 3.142-something-something-and so on. Just 3. Some fundamentalist Christians that I know claim that of course this is correct. The number 3 is significant in Christian theology – it’s the number of the Trinity. Our imperfect mathematics cannot supplant the word of God in the bible, therefore PI = 3. Maybe circles were smaller back in biblical days. What these people don’t seem to realize, is that there are certain things – common sense things – that everybody throughout history understood, and thus never thought it needed to be written down. Things such as: you know - the International Bureau of Standards and Measures hasn’t been invented yet, and so not all cubits are created equal – so – when I say 10 cubits by 30 cubits, that’s a ±10 percent tolerance!

I’ve spent a number of years studying chaos theory which, ironically enough, is not about randomness but is about finding order and patterns in nature. The idea that there is an elementary fundamental pattern which can used to explain all other patterns and statistical phenomena from weather patterns, to the shape of coastlines, to the rise and fall of the stock market, and to the behavior of large populations. If such a fundamental pattern does exist, then it can be expressed as a finite pattern of numbers.

In this week’s movie, PI, Max, a mathematical genius, is searching for such a number. I say he’s a “mathematical” genius, as opposed to your ordinary run-of-the-mill know-it-all, because that’s about all he knows. Virtually all of his working brain volume is devoted to finding the mathematical answer to the great question of life, the universe, and everything. Near the beginning of the film, a small neighborhood girl quizzes Max by giving him huge numbers to multiply together – which she verifies with a calculator. He always has the answer before she can key in the numbers.

The problem is, with all of his available brain resources working on the chaos problem, that doesn’t leave anything left over for some of the other important things – like dreaming and thinking about stuff and taking care of himself and so on. To make matters worse, the answer always seems to be out of reach and so he has to delve deeper into untapped parts of his brain …………..where the “crazy” is. He has become paranoid and psychotic and throws back pills (of some sort), literally by the handfuls, just to cope. The film becomes a race against time. Can he find the answer before his minds snaps – or is it already too late.

He has a special computer, which he built himself to devote to this task, which he tweaks and works the bugs out (literally). Then there’s a new wrinkle, posterity isn’t the only one who might be interested in the secret of the universe. It seems there’s a group of ……..people who might be interested in what the stock market might be doing, say ….next week. They offer Max a deal. They have a secret classified government super- computer processor thingy that they’ll loan to him. What the hell? He could use a little extra help - free up a few extra brain cells and all that. So what if they expect results? Other groups are also after him to fulfill their own agendas.

Thing is, what he and everybody else doesn’t understand is – if you do manage to unlock the secret and know the key to the universe, it’s very difficult to un-know it again.

This was director, Darren Aronofsky’s first feature film. He has since gone on to make Requiem for a Dream (PI has a very similar visceral feel to the cinematography), and most recently, The Fountain. He didn’t have a lot of money and he had no reputation to promote so he had to employ some of the tricks that many first-time film-makers do.

  1. He saved some money by shooting on grainy 16mm black & white, using a hand-held camera. Sounds dreadful, but actually lends the right kind of surreal atmosphere to this film.
  2. His mom catered the film shoots. What this means is that she packed sandwiches and hot soup in thermoses for the handful of people on the shoot.
  3. He couldn’t afford to hire police to keep the crowds back. Luckily, that wasn’t a problem.
  4. He also couldn’t afford filming permits. Friends were posted on street corners to watch out for cops, so that they could pick up and make a quick get-away should the law show up.
  5. He raised money. He went to everybody he knew and asked to borrow $100. When that got used up, he made the rounds again, showing them what their money bought so far. The whole shebang totaled around $60,000. The film won big at Sundance and at a number of smaller festivals. As a result, he sold the film to Artisan for $1 million. Each contributor got back 150% of their investment.
  6. Most of the props and set decorations were literally hot-glued together. The smell, because of the lights, kept making people sick. So – it wasn’t just good acting…..
  7. The scene with the brain promised to be costly. So, they had to steal a real brain from the experimental biology lab in a jar labeled “genius” – forcing the experiment to continue by using the “abnormal” brain – with absolutely no foreseeable negative consequences.
  8. I actually rented this DVD about four times before I ended up buying it. Now if everybody did that – think of all the money they’d make – and of all the money you’d spend.
  9. Words used to describe this film include: kinetic; visceral; thrilling; obsession; bizarre; intelligent; brilliant; philosophical; stylish; sureal; and innovative. 50 cent words – the lot of them. They could have used 10 cent words (like “cool”, or “neat”, or nickel words like “good”) and saved a bit of money, but as you can see, they splurged on the important things.
  10. Coming soon! A: Avogadro’s Number! ……..about a man racing against the clock to determine the number of molecules in a mole – after that, a full-sized rat!

PI is one of Steven Jay Schneider’s “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.” …….and no, seeing this film will NOT make you die any sooner.

Enjoy some PI (not = 3) – even if you don’t like math.

view trailer


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