Pi (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byDarren Aronofsky
Screenplay byDarren Aronofsky
Story by
Produced by
  • Eric Watson
  • Scott Vogel
CinematographyMatthew Libatique
Edited byOren Sarch
Music byClint Mansell
Distributed by
Release date
  • July 10, 1998 (1998-07-10)
Running time
84 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Box office$3.2 million[4]

Pi (stylized as π)[a] is a 1998 American neo-noir psychological horror film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky in his feature directorial debut. Pi was filmed on high-contrast black-and-white reversal film[5][6] 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 explores themes of religion, mysticism, and the relationship of the universe to mathematics.

The story, about a mathematician with an obsession to find underlying complete order in the real world, contrasts two seemingly irreconcilable entities: the imperfect, irrational humanity and the rigor and regularity of mathematics, specifically number theory.[7]


Unemployed number theorist Max Cohen, who lives in a drab apartment in Chinatown, Manhattan, believes everything in nature can be understood through numbers. He suffers from cluster headaches, extreme paranoia, hallucinations, and schizoid personality disorder, and his only social interactions are with Jenna, a young girl fascinated by his ability to perform complex calculations; Devi, a young woman living next door who sometimes speaks with him; and Sol Robeson, his mathematics mentor, now an invalid.

Max tries to program his computer, Euclid, to make stock predictions. Euclid malfunctions, printing out a seemingly random 216-digit number, as well as a single pick at one-tenth its current value, then crashes. Disgusted, Max throws away the printout. The next morning, he learns that Euclid's pick was accurate, but cannot find the printout. When Max mentions the number, Sol becomes unnerved and asks if it contained 216 digits, revealing that he came across the same number years ago. He urges Max to take a break from his work.

Max meets Lenny Meyer, a Hasidic Jew who does mathematical research on the Torah. Lenny demonstrates some simple Gematria, the correspondence of the Hebrew alphabet to numbers, and explains that some people believe the Torah is a string of numbers forming a code sent by God. Intrigued, Max notes some of the concepts parallel other mathematical concepts such as the Fibonacci sequence. Agents of a Wall Street firm approach Max; one of them, Marcy Dawson, offers him 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 displays the 216-digit number before crashing. As Max writes down the number, he realizes that he knows the pattern, undergoes an epiphany, and passes out. Waking up, Max appears to become clairvoyant and visualizes the stock market patterns he had searched for. His headaches intensify, and he discovers a vein-like bulge protruding from his right temple. Max has a falling out with Sol after Sol urges him to quit his work.

Dawson and her agents grab Max on the street and try to force him to explain the number, having found the printout Max threw away. Attempting to use it to manipulate the stock market, the firm instead caused the market to crash. Driving by, Lenny rescues Max, but takes him to his companions at a nearby synagogue. They ask Max to give them the 216-digit number, believing it was meant for them to bring about the messianic age, as the number represents the unspeakable name of God. Max refuses, insisting that the number has been revealed to him alone.

Max flees and visits Sol, only to learn from his daughter Jenny that he died from another stroke, and finds a piece of paper with the number in his study. At his own apartment, Max experiences another headache but does not take his painkillers. Driven insane, he destroys part of Euclid. Believing the number and the headaches are linked, Max tries to concentrate on the number through his 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. Standing alone in his trashed apartment, Max burns the paper with the number and begins to use a drill on his head.

Sometime later, Jenna approaches Max in a park and asks him to do several calculations, including 748 ÷ 238 (an approximation for pi). Max smiles and says that he does not know the answer. He sits on the bench and watches the trees blowing in the breeze, seemingly at peace.


Production process[edit]

Prior to production, to finance the complex visual sets and shots for the film, producer Eric Watson and director Darren Aronofsky went to every friend, relative or acquaintance and begged them for donations of $100 each, eventually managing to accumulate an estimated $60,000 for their production budget.[8]

The film was shot on an Aaton XTR Prod Camera, which shoots with 16mm film, with a Bolex H16 Camera[9] used for most of the handheld shots. Lenses were from Angenieux. The film was shot on black and white reversal film stock; Aronofsky aimed for high-contrast shots to give Pi a more "technically raw and spontaneous" look.[10]

Within Pi, stunts were replaced with ideas, action sequences with allegorical montages and special effects with a haunting redefinition of New York City. For the main set which was Max Cohen’s apartment, Scott Franklin's father allowed the production to use a warehouse he owned in Bushwick, Brooklyn. A back room was cleared out and used as a sound stage,[11] upon which Max's Euclid supercomputer was built and the majority of the film was shot. New York was chosen as the setting due to Darren Aronofsky's upbringing and all that he was surrounded with growing up. The nuanced multicultural view of the city in the film reflects Aronofsky's personal views of New York. Shooting on location would require expensive permits to be obtained; to get around this, much of the film was technically shot illegally,[12] with all of the subway and outdoor city scenes shot without permits.

Finishing the film was more costly than shooting it. The post budget was $68,183, most of which went into post-production sound, film and lab work, and film editing. Throughout the filming, fifty-three thousand feet of 16mm film was shot, amounting to about 23 hours over a 28 day period.[11]

Budget breakdown[edit]

Pi was produced under the SAG Limited Exhibition Agreement, which allowed the film to be shown only in limited art venues, and actors were paid $75 a day. If or when the film was sold for broader distribution, it was stipulated that the actors would receive an increased payment. On set operations, including catering, different location expenses, and the grip department, Aronofsky stated that “Every member of the crew was on deferment for $200 a day. These deferred personnel also split 45 profit points. But we couldn't find a grip or gaffer to do it for free, so we paid those guys $50 a day.” [13]

Most of the costumes used in the film were the actors' own clothes, with the exception Sean Gullette's which came from thrift stores. There was a standard kit fee for make-up and hairstyling that amounted to about $25 per day.

The producers managed to get a free lighting package, and all of the money within the electric department was then shifted toward the gaffer and expendables. The Bolex H16 Camera was borrowed, but the crew ended up breaking it, and money had to be budgeted to fix it; an Aanton 16mm camera package was also used.

Vehicles used in the film included a cab and a station wagon. In order to obtain the cab, Aronofsky stated that they hailed a cab and paid the driver $100 to keep his car there. The station wagon belonged to the film's consulting producer, who rented it to them.

The film was sent to be developed in Bono Labs in Arlington, Virginia, which, according to Aronofsky, was the only one that could develop black and white reversal stock. Consequently, the crew only received dailies after a week of sending the footage in. Raw stock cost $5,414, and developing it cost $18,000. While the crew was able to shoot in the warehouse for free, they did have to pay the electricity bill, which increased dramatically during filming.

During post-production, most of the budget went toward the negative cut, which was a matchback from an AVID cut-list. The score was created by Clint Mansell on his own equipment, for which he was paid a deferred fee. The rest of the money for music went toward rights for festival entries. There was a separate budget for film and lab for post production for the blow-up release print, which cost roughly $25,571. Another $3,000 went to the 35mm optical soundtrack.

The production cost a total of $60,927, and post-production costs amounted to $68,183. Along with other expenses, including insurance, the film cost a total of $134,815.[3]



Pi features multiple references to mathematics and mathematical theories.[c] 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.[14] This game has historically stimulated the study of mathematics[15] and features a simple set of rules that results in a complex game strategy. Each character uses 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.[14][d]

Both Gullette and Margolis spent many hours learning the game at the Brooklyn Go Club, and had the help of a Go consultant, Dan Weiner, for the film.[14] The film credits list Barbara Calhoun, Michael Solomon, and Dan Wiener as Go consultants.


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 comes when Max is in the market looking for that day's newspaper, when a recitation from the Quran can be heard in the background, which cites 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."


π - Music For The Motion Picture
Pi Music For The Motion Picture.jpg
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedJuly 21, 1998
LabelSire 90506-2
Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 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.[16] 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.

1."πr²"Clint Mansell1:29
3."Kalpol Introl" (The back cover incorrectly names track 3 as "Kalpol Intro".)Autechre3:30
4."Bucephalus Bouncing Ball"Aphex Twin6:02
5."Watching Windows" (Ed Rush & Optical remix)Roni Size6:35
6."Angel"Massive Attack6:10
7."We Got the Gun"Clint Mansell4:52
8."No Man's Land"David Holmes6:18
10."Drippy"Banco de Gaia8:37
11."Third from the Sun"Psilonaut5:10
12."A Low Frequency Inversion Field"Spacetime Continuum6:58
13."2πr"Clint Mansell3:05
  • Design – Jeremy Dawson, Sneak Attack
  • Executive-Producer – Eric Watson, Ricardo Vinas, Sioux Zimmerman
  • Mastered By – Mark Fellows
  • Written-By [Voiceover] – Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette


Produced on a budget of $134,815 (including $60,927 for production and $68,183 for post-production),[3] the film was financially successful at the box office, grossing $3,221,152 in the United States[4] despite only a limited theatrical release. It has sold steadily on DVD. Pi was the first ever film to legally be made available for download on the Internet.[17][failed verification]

Critical reception[edit]

The film was well received. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 88% approval rating based on 56 reviews with an average rating of 7.3/10. The website's critical consensus reads: "Dramatically gripping and frighteningly smart, this Lynchian thriller does wonders with its unlikely subject and shoestring budget."[18] On Metacritic, the film has a rating of 72 out of 100 based on 23 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[19] 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.[20]

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.[21]

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 digits supposedly representing its numerical value. However, the digits past the first eight decimal places show strong repetitive patterns not present in the actual pi sequence.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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. ^ McNary, Dave (21 October 2007). "Summit pins 'Wrestler'". Variety. Retrieved 5 November 2021.
  2. ^ "PI (15)". British Board of Film Classification. November 3, 1998. Retrieved October 19, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c "The Pieces of Pi". Filmmaker Magazine. Retrieved 2019-02-03.
  4. ^ a b "Pi (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. December 4, 1998. Retrieved October 19, 2014.
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Skorin-Kapov, Jadranka (2015) Darren Aronofsky's Films and the Fragility of Hope, Bloomsbury Academic
  8. ^ O'Sullivan, Michael (July 26, 1998). "DARREN ARONOFSKY: 'PI' IN THE SKY". The Washington Post.
  9. ^ Pi (1998), retrieved 2020-04-26
  10. ^ Holden, Stephen (1998-04-03). "FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW; Math as a Secret Decoder Of Markets and Mysticism". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  11. ^ a b "Darren Aronofsky's Pi - Filmmaker Magazine - Summer 1998". filmmakermagazine.com. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  12. ^ "10 Fascinating Facts About Pi". www.mentalfloss.com. 2019-03-14. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  13. ^ "The Pieces of Pi - Filmmaker Magazine - Summer 1998". filmmakermagazine.com. Retrieved 2020-04-26.
  14. ^ a b c The Game of Go, PiTheMovie.com, archived from the original on 22 February 2014, retrieved 2008-07-12
  15. ^ Fairbairn, John, "Go and Mathematics", MindZine, archived from the original on 8 June 2011
  16. ^ Pi at AllMusic
  17. ^ "SightSound to Netcast Franchise Pix". Scribd. Retrieved 2017-03-27.
  18. ^ Pi at Rotten Tomatoes
  19. ^ Pi at Metacritic
  20. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 24, 1998). "Pi". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  21. ^ Berardinelli, James (1998). "π (Pi)". ReelViews. Retrieved April 11, 2018.

External links[edit]