Pi, like any of Aronofsky’s works, requests viewers to depart from their reality and take a step inside the paranoid and overly analytical mind of its protagonist, Max Cowen. Max, a gifted Mathematician, spends most, if not all, of the day cooped up his small New York City apartment studying numerical patterns processed from his customized computer. With his mathematical prowess and computer, Max is able to fully predict the outcome of entire systems involving numbers such as the stock exchange.
One day he crosses a 216 digit number that is barely of significance to him until he meets Lenny, a fellow Jew, while crunching numbers at bar. Max, as a man fully orientated around the world of science and maths, is quite dismissive of Lenny, a religious man, claiming that he is a bit of number guy himself. Max remains, for the most part, unfazed even after Lenny shows him how numbers are integrated into the Hebrew language. Although it may not be of interest to Max, it’s quite an interesting revelation for viewers and serves as a plot device for what is to come later.
Max descends into madness after refusing to believe that there is no pattern in the chaotic sequence of the 216 digit number. This madness evolves into full fledged insanity after he starts to hallucinate and devote practically every second of each day to unravelling the truth behind the number.
Given how numbers correspond to letters in Hebrew Lenny and a group of Jewish men believe that this 216 digit number Max has discovered is the the true name of God – in Jewish history the real name of God is said to be 216 letters long. In the same way, Max is also sought after by Wall Street affiliates who believe his mind can benefit their firm.
Both Lenny’s group as well as Wall Street members further push Max into a state of paranoia and discomfort. Through the film’s often disorienting editing and directing, viewers are constantly subject to Max’s mental state. The majority of words spoken in Pi originate from Max’s voice over, placing viewers in his thinking process which results in a further exploration of his psyche.
Pi is shot in high contrast black and white possibly serving as a visual representation of the various conflicting sides seen in the film. Black and white can be explicitly seen as light and dark or good in evil. With reference to the story it can also be seen as the battle between God and the Devil. The titular 216 digit number is viewed as the true name of God by Lenny and his peers but also refers to the works of the evil, (63 is the product of 216 or 6x6x6 – the number of the devil).
This movie may explore the significance of a number but is very much a religious tale.
Mathematics/science and religion have been conflicting throughout history with each dismissing the claims of the other. In Pi, Aronofsky constantly pits the two sides against each other but carefully intertwines their separate ideas and beliefs to create a truly thought provoking film.
Typically the first entry in a director’s filmography differs quite a bit from their later ones; this isn’t the case for Pi. Aronofsky’s directorial debut has all the characteristics of his future projects: enticing, immersive, existential and spiritual.
Pi is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime. Please give it a watch if you are able.