Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Pamela Hart, Stephen Pearlman, Samia Shoaib, Ajay Naidu. (1998, R, 85 min.)

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 31, 1998

Brilliant, surreal, and emotionally draining, this first feature from American Film Institute grad Aronofsky recalls such low-budget sci-fi epics as Tetsuo: The Iron Man and more traditional paranoiac suspense films (Adrian Lyne's Jacob's Ladder in particular, but also Polanski's Rosemary's Baby) and yet manages to be a wholly original animal. Gullette plays Max Cohen, a twentysomething theoretical mathematics genius, who spends his days cloistered away in his New York City Chinatown apartment searching for a connection between the numerical construct Pi (the division of a circle's circumference by its diameter, i.e., 3.14 ad infinitum) and the stock market. Convinced that there is a deliberate correlation between the patterns inherent in mathematics and the patterns found in all other aspects of life, Max delves deeper and deeper into the mystery, barricading himself inside his tiny apartment amidst a humming warren of computer equipment and intelligence (nicknamed Euclid). A chance meeting with a Hasidic math whiz named Lenny Meyer (Shenkman) puts him in touch with a bizarre Jewish religious underground cult that seeks to reveal the true name of God via mathematical computations, while on the other end of Max's dwindling social circle, shady representatives of a monomaniacal Wall Street consortium persistently hound Max to share his discoveries or face unspoken consequences. All of this is played out against Max's frequent bouts of hallucinatory, crippling migraines, and against the better judgment of his former mentor, the aged Sol (Margolis), who realizes that caution is the better part of wisdom. The mathematics background in Pi is essentially a construct for Aronofsky to explore the limits of creativity and, finally, breakdown. Pi asks big questions of its audience, but can also be viewed as a simple (if non-simplistic) suspense film, replete with dizzying chases, heated battles, and shady underworld figures. Director of photography Matthew Libatique invests the film with a heady, disorienting black-and-white palette; as in Max's figures, there is precious little gray to be found here, and the cinematography reflects the stark ideas and shaky desperation behind Max's quest. Gullette plays Max as a closeted cipher; he's the physical manifestation of too much time spent breaking reality down into algorithmic patterns. Gangly, pale, and with a high, receding forehead, he'd be creepy enough without all the mystical, revelatory goings-on, but amid the steadily mounting chaos around him, he imparts a kind of feverish, terrifying intensity – he practically sweats barely contained anxiety. That's a good description of Aronofsky's film as well: the cinematic equivalent of a full-bore panic attack, sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, and all.

More Pi
Free Week Live Shots
Pi, Sun Machine, Rotten Mangos

Nina Hernandez, Jan. 9, 2015

More Darren Aronofsky Films
Partly allegorical, partly spectacular, and wholly sincere, Darren Aronofsky gives us another memorable movie about a driven individual.

Marjorie Baumgarten, April 4, 2014

Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman whip things into a baroque frenzy in this crazed hybrid of drama and horror set amid a ballet corps.

Kimberley Jones, Dec. 10, 2010

More by Marc Savlov
The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Gum King
The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Gum King
How Andy Paris cornered the market

Feb. 24, 2017

Bitter Harvest
In 1930s Ukraine, young lovers fight Stalin and forced starvation

Feb. 24, 2017


Pi, Darren Aronofsky, Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman, Pamela Hart, Stephen Pearlman, Samia Shoaib, Ajay Naidu

This content has not been formatted for this window size.
Please increase the size of your browser window, or revisit this page on a mobile device.
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)