Pi (film)


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 $68,000
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] 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.[3]


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. He is capable of doing simple arithmetic calculations involving large numbers in his head, a skill that impresses Jenna, a very young Chinese-American 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 young woman living next door who sometimes speaks to him, Max's only social interaction is with Sol Robeson, his old mathematics mentor who is now an invalid.

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 that he frequents on a daily basis, 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.

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 that Max threw away 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 take him to a nearby synagogue where they finally 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. Max searches Sol's apartment and finds mathematical scribblings similar to his own, eventually finding a piece of paper with the number. Back in his own apartment, Max is driven to the brink of madness when he 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, in the final scene, 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. No longer able to solve complex mathematics or experience headaches or paranoid thoughts, Max sits on the park bench and 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:[4]

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


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.

Critical reception

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.[5] On Metacritic, the film has a rating of 72 (generally favorable reviews) out of 100 based on 23 reviews.[6] 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."[7] 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."[8]



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

In the film, Max periodically plays Go with his mentor, Sol.[9] This game has historically stimulated the study of mathematics[10] 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.[9][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.[9]


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."


Soundtrack album by Clint Mansell
Released July 21, 1998
Genre Soundtracks
Length 1:10:03
Label Sire 90506-2
Professional ratings
Review scores

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.[11] 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
2."P.E.T.R.O.L."  Orbital6:22
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
9."Anthem"  GusGus4:52
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

See also


  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. 1 2 "Pi (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. December 4, 1998. Retrieved October 19, 2014.
  3. Skorin-Kapov, Jadranka (2015) Darren Aronofsky's Films and the Fragility of Hope, Bloomsbury Academic
  4. Sklar, Jessica K. Sklar, Elizabeth S. Mathematics in Popular Culture. 2012. p. 286
  5. Pi at Rotten Tomatoes
  6. "Pi", Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic
  7. Ebert, Robert, "Pi"
  8. Berardinelli, James, "π (Pi)".
  9. 1 2 3 The Game of Go, PiTheMovie.com, retrieved 2008-07-12
  10. Fairbairn, John, "Go and Mathematics", MindZine
  11. Pi at AllMusic
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