I watched two movies tonight… The Fountain, which looked interesting but turned out to be pretty dumb, and one of Darren Aronofsky’s earlier films, Pi, which was also pretty dumb. I’d give them both 5 out of 10 stars, which I guess isn’t too bad. What the films lack in good storytelling they at least make up for in thought provoking-ness.

Like listeners of a meaningless symphony, any human who watches these films could come up with his or her own meanings (and say whatever you’d like about the director’s intent, although be careful not to be too arrogant and presume to know something you don’t).

The Fountain had a definite theme of life and death, and creation through death (or life through death). Through parallel and interlinked stories, the main character battles death, both through the loss of a loved and through the confrontation of his own mortality. Meanwhile, a “tree of life” always seems to hold a promise of everlasting life, an unreachable goal that he thinks would solve all his problems. But the real solutions to his problems lie within himself. Boy, does that sound corny.

Pi seemed to have a lot more mathematical crap thrown into it for little reason. On the one hand, it might teach some audiences something new. Personally, unless you have something new to say about Fibonacci sequence, I no longer find branches and bunnies and golden ratio art all that interesting. If it doesn’t emerge naturally, forcing it isn’t going to accomplish anything. You can keep trying all you want, but you gain nothing. And, actually, that seems to be one of the themes of the film… (even if I just made it up)

Let me put it another way before I seem as ambiguous and meaningless as the films. A number, by itself, is meaningless. A sequence of numbers is meaningless. It is our conciousness that must create meanings for these numbers; that’s why we use them. They don’t just exist, they’re only representational tools. There’s an old philosophical question that asks: “If man did not exist to think of numbers, would they exist?” If you’re trying to answer that question, though you might have fun with it, you’ve gone too far; no answer is really practical, whether you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ isn’t going to change anything. (You might as well ask “can anything exist without someone to perceive it?”) The real problem lies in what people decide to do with numbers.

In Pi, all these dumb people want to use a certain number to control the stock market or reach religious enlightenment. They’re using numbers backwards. Yes, everything in the world can be explained with numbers and through mathematical calculations. But everything can also be explained with soda cans and toothpicks, with letters and spaces. What gives numbers their meaning is us, what we see in them, what we put into them. A number itself is meaningless. A word itself is meaningless. (A child could ask “why do things fall?” and an adult could say “because of gravity” … the child has learned nothing but a new word while the adult didn’t understand that he didn’t really know the answer. Unfortunately, the child often accepts just the word. He might even be a college student.) This isn’t to say numbers aren’t useful or that there’s no “truth” behind their pure concepts, it means it is we who actually define them, not nature. We can apply them to nature, but they are emergent properties of our own minds, not physical things. Tree branches and conch shells may seem to know about the Fibonacci sequence, but their structures are only emergent properties from the laws of atomic physics. That we can find patterns in them and apply our numbers to them may be fascinating (it certainly is to me), but it doesn’t imply anything about the Fibonacci sequence itself. So, when artists try to force math into their work, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Focus more on your own artistic desires than on what math you think governs the world.

In Pi, the main character also tries to find a pattern in the stock market. While there is indeed no such thing as true randomness, you can’t find a pattern in the stock market with the outcomes alone. This isn’t just because the system that dictates the stock market prices is too chaotic for anyone to understand (though it is), it’s because you can’t find a pattern for something simply by viewing data. Well, alright, many times you can find a practical example (day comes after night), but flipping a coin a million times will not help you determine what it will land on next, even if you can compute some weird pattern.

All this blather reminds me a bit of the book I just read, The Black Swan. According to IMDB.com, Darren Aronofsky’s next film will be called Black Swan. Hmmmm….

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