Pi (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Produced by
  • 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 date
  • July 10, 1998 (1998-07-10)
Running time
84 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $68,000
Box office $3,221,152[2]

Pi (stylized as π)[a] is a 1998 American surrealist psychological thriller film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky in his directorial debut. Pi was written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, and filmed on high-contrast black-and-white reversal film.[3][4] and 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.[b] The film is notable for its covering of an array of themes including religion, mysticism and the relationship of the universe to mathematics. The story about a mathematician and the obsession with mathematical regularity contrasts two seemingly irreconcilable entities: the imperfect, irrational humanity and the rigor and regularity of mathematics, specifically number theory.[5]


Max Cohen is the story's protagonist and unreliable narrator. Unemployed and living in a drab Chinatown apartment in New York City, Max is a number theorist who believes that everything in nature can be understood through numbers. Max suffers from cluster headaches, as well as extreme paranoia, hallucinations, and social anxiety disorder. His only social interactions are with Jenna, a young girl who is fascinated with his ability to calculate large numbers in his head; Devi, a young woman living next door who sometimes speaks to him; and Sol Robeson, his old mathematics mentor who is now an invalid.

Max tries programming his computer, Euclid, to make stock predictions. In the middle of printing out its picks, Euclid prints out a seemingly random 216-digit number, as well as a single pick at one-tenth its current value, then crashes. Disgusted, Max tosses the printout away. 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 take a break.

At a coffee shop that he frequents daily, 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 approached by agents of a Wall Street firm. One of the agents, Marcy Dawson, offers Max a classified computer chip called "Ming Mecca" in exchange for the results of his work.

Using the chip, Max has Euclid analyze mathematical patterns in the Torah. Once again, Euclid shows the 216-digit number on the screen before crashing. As he begins to write down the number, Max realizes that he knows the pattern, undergoes a sudden epiphany, and passes out. After waking up, Max appears to become clairvoyant and is able to visualize the stock market patterns he had been searching for. However, 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.

One evening, Dawson and her agents grab Max on the street and try to force him to explain the number. They had found the original printout Max threw away and had been trying to use it to manipulate the stock market in their favor. However, they caused the market to crash. Lenny drives by and manages to get Max away from them. However, Lenny takes Max to his companions, who want Max to give them the number. At a nearby synagogue, they reveal their intentions: they believe the 216-digit 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 out from his daughter, Jenny, that he has just died from another stroke. Searching Sol's apartment, Max eventually finds a piece of paper with the number. Back in his own apartment, Max experiences another headache, but resists the urge to take his painkillers. Driven to the brink of madness, he destroys part 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.

Some time later, Jenna approaches Max in a park and asks him to do several calculations, including 748 ÷ 238, which is an approximation for Pi.[c] Max smiles and says that he doesn't know the answer to them. He sits on the bench and watches the trees blowing in the breeze, seemingly at peace.



Produced on a $68,000 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. Pi was the first ever film to be made available for download on the Internet.[6][not in citation given]

Critical reception[edit]

The film was well received. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 87% 'Fresh' rating based on 54 reviews with an average rating of 7.3/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Dramatically gripping and frighteningly smart, this Lynchian thriller does wonders with its unlikely subject and shoestring budget."[7] On Metacritic, the film has a rating of 72 (generally favorable reviews) out of 100 based on 23 reviews.[8] 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."[9] 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."[10]



Pi features multiple references to mathematics and mathematical theories.[d] 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. During the climactic drill scene, a pattern resembling a bifurcation diagram is apparent on Max's shattered mirror.

The game of Go[edit]

In the film, Max periodically plays Go with his mentor, Sol.[11] This game has historically stimulated the study of mathematics[12] 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 its complexity gradually converges toward patterns that can be found.[11][e]

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.[11]


Early in the film, when Lenny begins talking with Max about his work, 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, in the background, citing Quran 2:140: "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."


Pi Music For The Motion Picture.jpg
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 Thrive Records. Allmusic rated it 4.5 stars out of five.[13] 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. ^ Since 748/238 = 22/7 X 34/34, this was a "slow pitch" question.
  4. ^ Much, and even most ( if not all, ) of the mathematical imagery consists of graphical matter to be found in "Jahnke and Emde." That is the Dover Edition of Tables of Functions by Eugene Jahnke and Fritz Emde.
  5. ^ 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. ^ Runyon, Christopher (2013-01-13). "The Darren Aronofsky Retrospective: 'Pi'". Movie Mezzanine. San Francisco. Retrieved 2017-01-31. Shot in ludicrously grainy, high-contrast black & white 
  4. ^ Anderson, Jeffrey M. (1998-06-25). "Interview with Darren Aronofsky: Easy as 3.14..." Combustible Celluloid. San Francisco. Retrieved 2017-01-31. The film is shot in very harsh, gritty, bleak, grainy black-and-white 16mm. 
  5. ^ Skorin-Kapov, Jadranka (2015) Darren Aronofsky's Films and the Fragility of Hope, Bloomsbury Academic
  6. ^ "SightSound to Netcast Franchise Pix". Scribd. Retrieved 2017-03-27. 
  7. ^ Pi at Rotten Tomatoes
  8. ^ "Pi", Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic
  9. ^ Ebert, Robert, "Pi"
  10. ^ Berardinelli, James, "π (Pi)".
  11. ^ a b c The Game of Go, PiTheMovie.com, archived from the original on 22 February 2014, retrieved 2008-07-12 
  12. ^ Fairbairn, John, "Go and Mathematics", MindZine, archived from the original on 8 June 2011 
  13. ^ Pi at AllMusic

External links[edit]