Derek Winnert

Pi ***** (1998, Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis, Ben Shenkman) – Classic Movie Review 202


‘Only God is perfect.’

There are not many true cinema originals – but writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s brilliantly weird 1998 mystical fantasy thriller is certainly one.

This highly imaginative, head-banging film, with its startling black and white images by Matthew Libatique, kinetic editing and jarring electronic score by Clint Mansell, is more of an nightmarish experience than a coherent story, bringing Franz Kafka to mind. Yes it’s all a bit of a ‘Trial’, but in a good way.

Sean Gullette plays Maximillian ‘Max’ Cohen, a paranoid maths genius determined to find a pattern in the chaos of the stock markets. He’s built a super-computer at home and is searching for a number that will unlock the universal patterns found in nature, a key for understanding all existence.


Max is searching for a number that is 216 digits long, which is six times six times six (666 is the number of the beast, according to the Book of Revelation). When he apparently cracks the code, he has to deal with representatives form a Hasidic sect and a Wall Street firm (both of whom are after his secret) and the death of his old maths teacher, as well as splitting headaches and blackouts.

Like the hero, you may end up with a big headache on the way to an infinity of enlightenment, but this is an artily clever, brilliant movie. And a unique one.

Gullette and Eric Watson collaborated with Aronofsky on the original story; Aronofsky wrote the screenplay.


Made on a $60,000 shoestring budget, which he raised as $100 from friends and family, this quintessential American indie movie marks a brilliant feature film debut for Brooklyn-born, Harvard-educated Aronofsky, after making four short films. He won the AFI award for 2008 movie of the year for The Wrestler and was nominated for Best Director Oscar for Black Swan in 2011.

The investors got $150 back when Artistan Entertainment bought the distribution rights for $1million. The number displayed on screen is a 218-digit number, though max writes it down as a different 216 one on a piece paper with ‘Only God is perfect’ at the bottom. Go figure.

Pi: 3.1415926535897932384626433832795.

(C) Derek Winnert 2013 Classic Film Review 202
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