π (PI). Darren Aronofsky, dir., script., story (with Sean Gullette and Eric Watson). USA: Harvest Filmworks / Plantain Films / Protozoa Films / Truth & Soul (prod.); LIVE Entertainment / Artisan Films (dist.), 1998. B/w. 84 min. Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, featured players.
Independently produced art film (Sundance festival winner), generically, an SF mathematical mystery, plus thriller. Summarized by Vince Moore, with editing by Erlich, Clockworks specifics by Erlich—Kabalah comments from Don Riggs:
The significantly named Maximilian—always called "Max"—Cohen (Kohen Gadol = High Priest = Max. Priest) is a theoretical mathematician who believes in pattern in everything, yet he still subject to inexplicable and incurable seizures and hallucinations (apparently from some variety of migraine). He has focused his talents on patterns that may predict complex, apparently chaotic phenomena, with the stock market as his main, purely theoretical, interest. Just before his home-made computer (Euclid) crashes, it spits out some apparently random digits and highly unlikely stock predictions. Cohen throws away the printout and goes to complain to Sol Robeson: his current confidante and Go partner, and apparently Cohen's only male friend. Cohen rejects friendship or even colleagueship with women, which Don Riggs, at the 1999 meeting of the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, saw as significant: according to important traditions in the study of Kabalah, such a loner is incomplete himself and cannot hope to complete The Great Work. Sol was once Cohen's mentor; and Sol once sought patterns in the transcendental number pi, perhaps finding them and suffering a stroke in consequence—and being wise enough to quit. (Pi = ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, the ratio itself = 3.1416… a nonrepeating series that can be extended indefinitely.) Sol asks if the random number(s) the computer generated contained 216 digits. Cohen is soon told by a Hassidic Jew who works with Biblical numerology that his group of Hassidim are looking for a 216 digit number (which, translated from numbers to Hebrew letters, gives the true NAME—of God). Simultaneously, an organization combining elements of a think tank, Wall Street brokerage firm, and espionage operation aggressively solicits Cohen's help on stock investments. Cohen goads Sol to reproduce the 216-digit number, which Sol does, has another stroke, and dies. Sol's earlier theory was that the 216 digit number was the product of computer consciousness as the computer "died."
Pi is significant here primarily for the imagery of Cohen sitting in the midst of Euclid, which Robert Denerstein, the Scripps-Howard reviewer, saw as "a giant computer that lines the walls of his apartment like a high-tech web" (The Cincinnati Post, 7 Aug. 1998: 3B). Euclid is literally a very small main-frame but Denerstein does well to note the web imagery: at the center of the computer, destroying its main chip, are ants, secreting a mucoid substance that "kills" Euclid, perhaps bringing it to consciousness and generating the NAME. Cohen rebuilds his computer, around a superchip supplied by the mysterious Wall Street organization. The imagery of Cohen inside the computer elements suggests strange juxtapositions of po-mo cybernetic space—but definitely not cyberpunk cyberspace—enclosing the human and insectoid, the natural and secular, along with the ultimately spiritual. Cohen within his computer may be a new Kohen Gadol in a new Holy of Holies, bringing about the Last Days, in an apocalyptic crash of the stock market, or with the Messianic era. Or he's another mad scientist, another nut venturing into areas reserved for High Priests or Messiah. Cf. and contrast Arthur C. Clarke's 1953 short story, "The Nine Billion Names of God," wherein computers are used to list God's 9 billion names, at which time the work of the universe, and the universe, is finished (coll. The Nine Billion Names of God [New York: Signet-NAL, 1967]).
For ants inside a computer, compare and strongly contrast ANT-MAN film (2015, q.v.).
5. DRAMA, RDE, 09/VIII/98, 4/II/01, 22 July 2015