Mathematics is the language of the universe. So what happens if you stumble upon the numbers that can explain everything? You don’t need a maths degree to watch Pi – in fact, if you did you’d probably get annoyed. Instead this is about obsession, power and insanity. Those are common themes in Darren Aronofsky’s work: Requiem For a Dream, The Fountain, The Wrestler, Black Swan and Noah were all about characters obsessed with something and seeing this slowly destroy them.
Pi‘s spiral of self-destruction focuses around Max, a mathematics genius who, with the help of a special computer he built in his apartment, is trying to crack the stock market. He believes there exists an equation or series of numbers that can let you manipulate, perhaps even control, the world of Wall Street. Max is not alone in believing this – a stock broker firm is trying hard to get his research. So is a religious Jewish sect, convinced that his research can reveal the true name of God.
But Max has his own problems, namely incredible headaches that can render him unconscious. And as he closes in on this powerful sequence of 216 numbers, he starts to hallucinate. Or maybe they are visions. Perhaps he is simply going mad. Yet his obsession leads Max to ignore these as the lure for the numbers grows stronger – especially when his machine dies in a massive crash, but not before producing a section of the number set.
Pi is not a movie about maths. Astute viewers will notice that the famous number sequence of pi has little to do with the movie’s story. Instead the script simply blends familiar popular mathematical ideas – ‘cocktail party maths’ as Aranofsky called it – to create a compelling story. Most of Max’s quest revolves around vague or speculated ideas like the Golden Ratio or Chaos patterns. But none of that is really important.
The movie is instead about Max’s obsession and the power-crazy people who want his work. It starts as a cerebral thriller, but morphs into a peculiar bit of science fiction and ultimately a study of how the quest for meaning can lead to madness or corruption. Shot in high-contrast black-and-white, Pi often uses strange camera angles or quick cuts of stock footage to jar the viewer. Focusing only on Max, you soon become a part of his world and the insanity that comes with hunting this strange series of numbers.
This clever mix of loose science and pop psychology has made Pi one of those films where everyone can have a different idea about its meaning. It has even found a home among conspiracy theorists, who are convinced the themes are about shadow governments, ultimate knowledge and finding the truth.
This isn’t the case, but it shows how Pi that remarkable and intense kind of film that tells different things to different people. Aronofsky said it’s mainly about Icarus, Prometheus or Faust – people who sought the power of the gods/universe or flew too close to the sun and paid the price for it.
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Last Updated: July 28, 2014