Pi (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byDarren Aronofsky
Written byDarren Aronofsky
Story by
Produced by
  • Eric Watson
  • Scott Vogel
CinematographyMatthew Libatique
Edited byOren Sarch
Music byClint Mansell
Distributed by
Release date
  • December 10, 1998 (1998-12-10)
Running time
84 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Box office$3.2 million[4]

Pi (stylized as π)[a] is a 1998 American conceptual psychological thriller film written and directed by Darren Aronofsky (in his feature directorial debut). Pi was filmed on high-contrast black-and-white reversal film and title refers to the mathematical constant pi.[b][5][6] The story focuses on a mathematician with an obsession to find underlying complete order in the real world and contrasting two seemingly irreconcilable entities: the imperfect irrationality of humanity and the rigor and regularity of mathematics, specifically number theory.[7] The film explores themes of religion, mysticism, and the relationship of the universe to mathematics.

The film received positive reviews and earned Aronofsky the Directing Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival,[8] the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay and the Gotham Open Palm Award.


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. His only social interactions are with his mathematics mentor, Sol Robeson (now disabled from a stroke), and those who live in his building: Jenna, a little girl fascinated by his ability to perform complex calculations, and Devi, a young woman living next door who sometimes speaks with him.

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 stock 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 loses consciousness. After waking up, Max appears to become clairvoyant and visualizes the stock market patterns he sought. 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 the number 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 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. He 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 mad, 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 is revealed 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 in a trepanning procedure.

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.



Before production, to finance the complex visual sets and shots for the film, producer Eric Watson and director Darren Aronofsky begged every friend, relative, or acquaintance for donations of $100 each. Eventually, they accumulated an estimated $60,000 for their production budget.[9]

The film was shot on an Aaton XTR Prod Camera, which shoots with 16mm film, with a Bolex H16 Camera[10] 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.[11]

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,[12] where 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. 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 shot illegally,[13] 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 28 days.[12]

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 earned $75 a day. If or when the film was sold for broader distribution, the agreement stipulated 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. This 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."[14]

Most of the costumes used in the film were the actors' clothes, except for 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 shifted to the gaffer and expendables. The Bolex H16 camera was borrowed, but the crew broke it, and money had to be budgeted to fix it. A Canon 16mm camera package was also used.

Vehicles used in the film included a cab and a station wagon. 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, Aronofsky said, was the only one to 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 match back from an AVID cut list. Clint Mansell created the score on his 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 post-production, which cost roughly $25,571. Another $3,000 went to the 35mm optical soundtrack.

The production cost was $60,927, with post-production costing an additional $68,183. Along with other expenses, including insurance, the film cost $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.[15] This game has historically stimulated the study of mathematics[16] 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.[15][d]

Gullette and Margolis spent many hours learning the game at the Brooklyn Go Club and received help from Dan Weiner, one of three Go consultants credited to the film.[15] Barbara Calhoun and Michael Solomon also served as game consultants.


Early in the film, when Lenny speaks 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

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.[17] A music video for "πr²", using an alternative mix of the title track, is available as a special feature on DVD, consisting of footage from the film intercut with stock color reels of ants, referencing 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

Release and legacy[edit]

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 sold steadily on DVD. Pi was the first ever film to be sold as a download or pay-per-view on the Internet. On the website Sightsound.com, the film was available for purchase as a download, as well as streaming in a pay-per-view window.[18][19][20]

More than a decade after its theatrical release, the rights to the film reverted from Lionsgate (owner of the Artisan library) back to Aronofsky, who sold it to A24 in 2023. The 8K and Atmos restoration version was released on March 14 by A24 in the IMAX format, to commemorate its 25th anniversary. [21]

Critical reception[edit]

Pi was received well by critics upon release. 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."[22] On Metacritic, the film has a rating of 72 out of 100 based on 23 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[23]

Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half out of four stars, 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."[24]

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."[25]

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 (October 21, 2007). "Summit pins 'Wrestler'". Variety. Archived from the original on November 5, 2021. Retrieved November 5, 2021.
  2. ^ "PI (15)". British Board of Film Classification. November 3, 1998. Archived from the original on October 19, 2014. Retrieved October 19, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c "The Pieces of Pi". Filmmaker Magazine. Archived from the original on July 13, 2018. Retrieved February 3, 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Pi (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. December 4, 1998. Archived from the original on December 15, 2021. Retrieved February 28, 2022.
  5. ^ Runyon, Christopher (January 13, 2013). "The Darren Aronofsky Retrospective: 'Pi'". Movie Mezzanine. San Francisco. Archived from the original on November 19, 2018. Retrieved January 31, 2017. Shot in ludicrously grainy, high-contrast black & white
  6. ^ Anderson, Jeffrey M. (June 25, 1998). "Interview with Darren Aronofsky: Easy as 3.14..." Combustible Celluloid. San Francisco. Archived from the original on December 26, 2016. Retrieved January 31, 2017. 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 Archived March 18, 2021, at the Wayback Machine, Bloomsbury Academic
  8. ^ Sundance Stories of Yore: "Pi"|IndieWire
  9. ^ O'Sullivan, Michael (July 26, 1998). "Darren Aronofsky: 'Pi' in the Sky". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on January 15, 2020. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  10. ^ Pi (1998), archived from the original on August 6, 2020, retrieved April 26, 2020
  11. ^ Holden, Stephen (April 3, 1998). "Film Festival Review; Math as a Secret Decoder Of Markets and Mysticism". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on September 8, 2020. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  12. ^ a b "Darren Aronofsky's Pi – Filmmaker Magazine – Summer 1998". Filmmaker Magazine. Archived from the original on August 6, 2020. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  13. ^ "10 Fascinating Facts About Pi". MentalFloss. March 14, 2019. Archived from the original on August 6, 2020. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  14. ^ "The Pieces of Pi". Filmmaker Magazine. Summer 1998. Archived from the original on August 6, 2020. Retrieved April 26, 2020.
  15. ^ a b c The Game of Go, PiTheMovie.com, archived from the original on February 22, 2014, retrieved July 12, 2008
  16. ^ Fairbairn, John, "Go and Mathematics", MindZine, archived from the original on June 8, 2011
  17. ^ Pi at AllMusic
  18. ^ "Trying to Turn Net Patent Into a Blockbuster Deal – WSJ". archive.today. May 7, 1999. Archived from the original on February 19, 2022. Retrieved February 19, 2022.
  19. ^ Wilson, Steve (July 29, 1999). "On-Line Piracy Turns From Music to Movies – The New York Times". The New York Times. Archived from the original on February 19, 2022. Retrieved February 19, 2022.
  20. ^ Cunningham, Stuart; Silver, Jon (2013). Screen Distribution and the New King Kongs of the Online World. London: Palgrave Pivot. p. 17. ISBN 978-1-137-32645-4. Archived from the original on March 17, 2023. Retrieved February 22, 2022.
  21. ^ Rubin, Rebecca (March 1, 2023). "A24 Acquires Darren Aronofsky's First Film 'Pi,' Sets Imax Re-Release on Pi Day". Variety. Archived from the original on March 2, 2023. Retrieved March 3, 2023.
  22. ^ Pi at Rotten Tomatoes
  23. ^ Pi at Metacritic Edit this at Wikidata
  24. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 24, 1998). "Pi". RogerEbert.com. Ebert Digital LLC. Archived from the original on January 31, 2018. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  25. ^ Berardinelli, James (1998). "π (Pi)". ReelViews. Archived from the original on November 18, 2018. Retrieved April 11, 2018.

External links[edit]