American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
The film “Pi” is a study in madness and its partner, genius. A tortured, driven man believes (1) that mathematics is the language of the universe, (2) nature can be expressed in numbers, and (3) there are patterns everywhere in nature. If he can find the patterns, if he can find the key to the chaos, then he can predict anything--the stock market, for example. If the man is right, the mystery of existence is unlocked. If he is wrong, the inside of his brain begins to resemble a jammed stock ticker.
The movie, written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, is a study in mental obsession. His hero, named Maximillian Cohen, lives barricaded behind a triple-locked door, in a room filled with high-powered, customized computer equipment. He wants nothing to do with anybody. He writes programs, tests them, looks for the pattern, gets a 216-digit bug, stomps on his chips in a rage, and then begins to wonder about that bug. Exactly 216 digits. There is a theory among some Jewish scholars, he learns, that the name of God has 216 letters.
The movie is shot in rough, high-contrast black and white. Max, played by Sean Gullette, is balding, restless, paranoid and brilliant. He has debilitating headaches and nosebleeds. Symptoms of high blood pressure--or of the mental torment he's putting himself through. He's suspicious of everyone. The friendly Indian woman next door puts food by his door. He avoids her. He trusts only his old teacher, Sol (Mark Margolis). They play Go, a game deeper than chess, and Sol tells him to stop with the key to the universe business, already. He warns that he's spinning away from science and toward numerology.
Not everybody thinks so. His phone rings with the entreaties of Marcy (Pamela Hart), who works for a high-powered Wall Street analysis firm. They want to hire him as a consultant. They think he's onto something. He has predicted some prices correctly. At the deli, he runs into a Hasidic Jew named Lenny (Ben Shenkman), who seems casual and friendly but has a hidden mission: His group believes the Torah may be a code sent from God and may contain God's name.