So, who knew mathematics and numerology could be so engrossing?
All right, maybe mathematicians and accountants have known it for years, but for the rest of us there's the peculiar, low-budget thriller "Pi," which takes the otherwise mundane subject and really runs with it.
Be warned, however, that it's not always an easy film to watch. Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (winner of the Best Director Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival) employs headache-inducing camera tricks (such as the "shaky cam"), and there are scenes not for the squeamish.
However, Aronofsky also displays a technically precocious talent on a level not seen since Sam Raimi made his "Evil Dead" trilogy.
"Pi" follows Max (newcomer Sean Gullette), a twentysomething math genius who is gradually descending into madness, thanks to his fanatical search for a pattern to nature.
Eschewing sleep and human contact, and hopped up on "consciousness-expanding" drugs, Max is trying to find a 216-digit number that will allow him to predict stock exchange results, as well as decipher an unknown section of the Torah.
But his mentor, Sol (Mark Margolis), has warned him that there may be a steep price to pay for his relentless search for knowledge. And Max is also pursued by Jewish mystics and a Wall Street firm who are eager to get his formula, either by monetary enticements or by force.
It's a bizarre premise, and the film's odd black-and-white look recalls David Lynch's surreal fantasy "Eraserhead." But at least the plot here is semi-coherent, and the story is nicely structured (if predictable).
Though the movie does get a bit overwrought in its final 30 minutes, and some of the acting is amateurish, Aronofsky's inventive direction moves the story along so briskly that many audiences won't notice the flaws. And Gullette (who helped write the screenplay) is a believable, if not particularly likable, presence.
The effectively frantic score by musician Clint Mansell (formerly of the dance-pop combo Pop Will Eat Itself) certainly helps.
"Pi" is rated R for drug use, fist fights and violent self-flagellation, profanity, sex (overheard), brief gory special effects and use of an ethnic slur.