(Darren Aronofsky, USA, 1998)


There is a particular form of isolated, obsessive behaviour which filmmakers love to depict: the foolish attempt by a super-brainy individual to impose order upon a chaotic universe.

The solipsistic, invariably male anti-heroes of such fictions usually let their health, appearance and social skills go down the drain as they paranoiacally seek the grand pattern supposedly underlying even the tiniest of the universe's manifestations.

From the films of Peter Greenaway to the amusing sleeper Zero Effect (1998), we witness the sorry effects of theoretical abstraction taken to the point of insanity. Messy reality, and even messier emotions, always end up intruding upon the hyper-rationalist designs of withdrawn thinkers.

is about one such head case. Max (Sean Guilette) could be charitably termed a computer nerd. Cooped up with a phalanx of interlinked terminals, Max scrolls through endless numbers. His drive is initially simple greed: he hopes to crack the numerical pattern that would allow him to predict precise fluctuations on the stock market.

But the more that Max delves, the hazier his objective becomes. A Jewish scholar encountered by chance one day in a bar connects Max's enquiry with the mysticism of the Kabbalah. And conversations with Max's old teacher, Sol (Mark Margolis), raise the spectre of a mathematical Holy Grail: the ultimate computation of the mysterious function ...

As an exercise in low-budget, stylish sci-fi, is the flip side of the Canadian film Cube (1998). Where that movie went for suspense, gore and group psychodrama, this one aims for a moody, grungy evocation of one man's descent into madness.

Both Cube and seem like short subjects inordinately stretched to feature length. Since Max is unable to relate to other people, the plot has virtually nowhere to go. Even the love interest which is flagged early on fails to materialise. The film quickly becomes repetitive, and its entropic movement is utterly predictable.

Writer-director Darren Aronofsky laboriously plunders the work of David Lynch and David Cronenberg as he charts Max's spin into hallucination and self-mutilation. And he loses grip all too easily of the tension upon which such tales depend: for us to care at all about a grand, know-all folly, we have to be able to believe in it a little, and want it to truly make sense of an impossibly complex world.

© Adrian Martin July 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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