Pi (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Produced by
  • Darren Aronofsky
  • Eric Watson
  • Scott Vogel
Screenplay by Darren Aronofsky
Story by
Music by Clint Mansell
Cinematography Matthew Libatique
Edited by Oren Sarch
Distributed by Artisan Entertainment
Release dates
  • July 10, 1998 (1998-07-10)
Running time
84 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $60,000
Box office $3,221,152[2]

Pi, also titled π,[nb 1] is a 1998 American surrealist psychological thriller film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky in his directorial debut. The film earned Aronofsky the Directing Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay and the Gotham Open Palm Award. The title refers to the mathematical constant pi.[nb 2] Like most of Aronofsky's films, Pi centers on a protagonist whose obsessive pursuit of ideals leads to severely self-destructive behavior.[citation needed]


Max Cohen is the story's protagonist and unreliable narrator. Unemployed, and living a dreary Chinatown apartment in New York City, Max is a number theorist who believes that everything in nature can be understood through numbers. He is capable of doing simple arithmetic calculations involving large numbers in his head, a skill that impresses Jenna, a small girl with a calculator who lives in his apartment building. Max also suffers from cluster headaches, as well as extreme paranoia, hallucinations, and social anxiety disorder. Other than Devi, a woman living next door who sometimes speaks to him, Max's only social interaction is with Sol Robeson, his old mathematics mentor.

Max begins making stock predictions based on the calculations of his computer, Euclid. In the middle of printing out its picks, Euclid suddenly crashes after spitting out a seemingly random 216-digit number, as well as a single pick at one-tenth its current value. Disgusted, Max tosses out the printout of the number. The next morning, he checks the financial pages and sees that the pick Euclid made was accurate. He searches desperately for the printout but cannot find it. Sol becomes unnerved when Max mentions the number, asking if it contained 216 digits. When Max questions him about the number, Sol indicates that he came across it many years ago. He urges Max to slow down and try taking a break.

At a coffee shop, Max meets Lenny Meyer, a Hasidic Jew who coincidentally does mathematical research on the Torah. Lenny demonstrates some simple Gematria, the correspondence of the Hebrew alphabet to numbers, and explains how some people believe that the Torah is a string of numbers that form a code sent by God. Max takes an interest when he realizes that some of the number concepts Lenny discusses are similar to other mathematical concepts, such as the Fibonacci sequence. Max is also met by agents of a Wall Street firm who are interested in his work. One of the agents, Marcy Dawson, offers Max a classified computer chip called "Ming Mecca" in exchange for the results of his work, which Max eventually accepts.

Using the chip, Max has Euclid analyze mathematical patterns in the Torah. Euclid spits out the 216-digit number before crashing again. When his computer refuses to print out the number, Max begins to write it down. Midway through the writing, Max realizes that he knows the pattern, undergoes a sudden epiphany, and passes out. Thereafter, Max appears to become clairvoyant and is able to visualize the stock market patterns he had been searching for. But his headaches also increase in intensity, and he discovers a strange vein-like bulge protruding from his right temple. Max has a falling out with Sol after the latter urges him to quit his work.

Dawson and her agents grab Max on the street and try to force him to explain the number. They had found the original printout and had been trying to use it to manipulate the stock market in their favor, but as a result, caused it to crash. Although Max is held at gunpoint, Lenny drives by and rescues him. However, Lenny and his companions make similar demands on Max to give them the number. They finally reveal their intentions: they believe the number was meant for them to bring about the messianic age, as the number represents the unspeakable name of God. Max refuses, insisting that whatever the source of the number is, it has been revealed to him alone.

Max flees and tries to visit Sol, only to find that he has died. Max searches his house and finds mathematical scribblings similar to his own, eventually finding a piece of paper with the number. Driven to the brink of madness, Max experiences another headache and resists the urge to take his painkillers, which causes him to destroy some of the parts of Euclid. Believing that the number and the headaches are linked, Max tries to concentrate on the number through the pain. After passing out, Max has a vision of himself standing in a white void and repeating the digits of the number. The vision ends with Max hugging Devi, who turns out to be a hallucination. Max stands alone in his trashed apartment. Max burns the paper with the number and blithely performs an impromptu trepanning on himself in the right cerebral hemisphere with a power drill.

Later, Jenna approaches Max in a park asking math problems, including 748 ÷ 238, which is an approximation for Pi. Max smiles and claims that he doesn't know the answer to them. He observes the trees blowing in the breeze, at peace.



Pi was written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, and filmed on high-contrast black-and-white reversal film.

When asked how they filmed the scene in which Max drills a hole into his brain, Aronofsky stated in the director's commentary:[3]

Sean [Gullette] is a full-on method actor. We had an ambulance waiting.


Produced on a $60,000 budget, the film was financially successful at the box office, grossing $3,221,152 in the United States[2] despite only a limited theatrical release. It has sold steadily on DVD.

Critical reception[edit]

The film was well-received. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 87% 'Fresh' rating based on 52 reviews with an average rating of 7.3/10.[4] On Metacritic, the film has a rating of 72 (generally favorable reviews) out of 100 based on 23 reviews.[5] Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half stars out of four, writing: "Pi is a thriller. I am not very thrilled these days by whether the bad guys will get shot or the chase scene will end one way instead of another. You have to make a movie like that pretty skillfully before I care. But I am thrilled when a man risks his mind in the pursuit of a dangerous obsession."[6] James Berardinelli gave the film three out of four stars, writing: "[Pi] transports us to a world that is like yet unlike our own, and, in its mysterious familiarity, is eerie, intense, and compelling. Reality is a fragile commodity, but, because the script is well-written and the central character is strongly developed, it's not hard to suspend disbelief....It probably deserves 3.1416 stars, but since my scale doesn't support that, I'll round it off to three."[7]



Pi features multiple references to mathematics and mathematical theories. For instance, Max finds the golden spiral occurring everywhere, including the stock market. Max's belief that diverse systems embodying highly nonlinear dynamics share a unifying pattern bears much similarity to results in chaos theory, which provides machinery for describing certain phenomena of nonlinear systems, which might be thought of as patterns.

The game of Go[edit]

In the film, Max periodically plays Go with his mentor, Sol.[8] This game has historically stimulated the study of mathematics[9] and features a simple set of rules that results in a complex game strategy. The two characters each use the game as a model for their view of the universe; Sol says that the game is a microcosm of an extremely complex and chaotic world, while Max asserts that patterns can be found in the complexity of its variations.[8][nb 3]

Both Gullette and Margolis spent many hours learning the game at the Brooklyn Go Club, and had the help of a Go consultant, Don Weiner (misspelled as Dan), for the film.[8]


When Lenny begins talking about his work with Max early in the film, he asks if Max is familiar with kabbalah. The numerological interpretation of the Torah and the 216-letter name of God, known as the Shem HaMeforash, are important concepts in traditional Jewish mysticism.


Another religious reference is when Max is in the market looking for today's newspaper, there is a recitation from Quran, the holy book of Islam, in the background, the verse (Quran 2:140) goes like this: "Or do you say that Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Descendants were Jews or Christians? Say, "Are you more knowing or is Allah?" And who is more unjust than one who conceals a testimony he has from Allah? And Allah is not unaware of what you do."


Soundtrack album by Clint Mansell
Released July 21, 1998
Genre Soundtracks
Length 1:10:03
Label Sire 90506-2
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars

Pi launched the film scoring career of Clint Mansell. The soundtrack was released on July 21, 1998 via Sire label. Allmusic rated it 4.5 stars out of five.[10] A music video for "πr²", using an alternative mix of the title track, is available as a special feature on the π DVD, consisting of footage from the film intercut with stock color reels of ants, harking back to one of the film's visual motifs.

No. Title Artist Length
1. "πr²"   Clint Mansell 1:29
2. "P.E.T.R.O.L."   Orbital 6:22
3. "Kalpol Introl" (The back cover incorrectly names track 3 as "Kalpol Intro".) Autechre 3:30
4. "Bucephalus Bouncing Ball"   Aphex Twin 6:02
5. "Watching Windows" (Ed Rush & Optical remix) Roni Size 6:35
6. "Angel"   Massive Attack 6:10
7. "We Got the Gun"   Clint Mansell 4:52
8. "No Man's Land"   David Holmes 6:18
9. "Anthem"   GusGus 4:52
10. "Drippy"   Banco de Gaia 8:37
11. "Third from the Sun"   Psilonaut 5:10
12. "A Low Frequency Inversion Field"   Spacetime Continuum 6:58
13. "2πr"   Clint Mansell 3:05
  • Design – Jeremy Dawson, Sneak Attack
  • Executive-Producer – Eric Watson, Ricardo Vinas, Sioux Zimmerman
  • Mastered By – Mark Fellows
  • Written-By [Voiceover] – Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette

See also[edit]


  1. ^ On-screen title is π, i.e. lowercase Pi and symbol for the mathematical constant Pi.
  2. ^ The film's title sequence shows the Greek letter π, followed by hundreds of lines of numbers representing the numerical value of the constant. However, the numbers are not accurate past the first eight decimal places.
  3. ^ SOL: Listen to me. The Ancient Japanese considered the Go board a microcosm of the universe. When it is empty it appears simple and ordered, but the possibilities of game play are endless. They say that no two Go games have ever been alike. Just like snowflakes. So, the Go board actually represents an extremely complex and chaotic universe. That is the truth of our world, Max. It can't be easily summed up with math. There is no simple pattern.
    MAX: But as a Go game progresses, the possibilities become smaller and smaller. The board does take on order. Soon, all moves are predictable.
    SOL: So?
    MAX: So, maybe, even though we're not sophisticated enough to be aware of it, there is an underlying order... a pattern, beneath every Go game. Maybe that pattern is like the pattern in the market, in the Torah. The two sixteen number.


  1. ^ "PI (15)". British Board of Film Classification. November 3, 1998. Retrieved October 19, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Pi (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. December 4, 1998. Retrieved October 19, 2014. 
  3. ^ Sklar, Jessica K. Sklar, Elizabeth S. Mathematics in Popular Culture. 2012. p. 286
  4. ^ Pi at Rotten Tomatoes
  5. ^ "Pi", Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic
  6. ^ Ebert, Robert, "Pi"
  7. ^ Berardinelli, James, "π (Pi)".
  8. ^ a b c The Game of Go, PiTheMovie.com, retrieved 2008-07-12 
  9. ^ Fairbairn, John, "Go and Mathematics", MindZine 
  10. ^ Pi (film) at AllMusic

External links[edit]