Pi movie explained: the meaning of Darren Aronofsky’s film

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This article reveals the explained plot and the detailed events in Darren Aronofsky’s movie Pi, revealing its meaning and storyline. We recommend you to read it only after watching the movie, and not before, in order to preserve the pleasure of the first vision.

9:13, Personal note: When I was a little kid my mother told me not to stare into the sun. So once when I was six, I did.

The doctors didn’t know if my eyes would ever heal. I was terrified, alone in that darkness. Slowly daylight crept in through the bandages, and I could see

Maximillian Cohen

With this episode, narrated by the mathematician and protagonist Maximilian Cohen, begins π, Darren Aronofsky’s movie released in 1998.

Max Cohen, brilliant and intuitive mathematician but cynical at the same time, believes that in nature there is a Regulatory Principle based on mathematical laws. He is sure that the Mathematical Order is everywhere and tries to prove it through the study of stock market trends.

These are his postulates, that recall some ideas of the Pythagoreans:

12:45, Restate my assumptions:

1. Mathematics is the language of nature.
2. Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers.
3. If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge. Therefore: There are patterns everywhere in nature.

Given these postulates, Max sets its objective: to find out to the Regulatory Principle present in nature by elaborating mathematically calculated schemes. Curiosity and the obsession for research are characteristics that the protagonist has from an early age, when he tries to stare into the sun by going beyond the prohibition imposed on him by the maternal authority, risking to get permanent damage to his sight. The development of the film suggests that the sun has a value comparable to the concept of Order, opposed to that of Chaos represented instead by darkness, a situation in which Max was because of the excessive solar brightness. The darkness terrified him, but little by little, the light of mathematical rigor began to make its way through the bandages. Max won the darkness and embraced the light of mathematical research, his dancing star.

Although the protagonist is sure about his principles, in the course of the film there is the presence of some entity that escapes his logical understanding. Frequent migraines hit him, disturbing visions coming from David Lynch’s style, suddenly an unknown entity tries to open the armored proton of his office, all these episodes suggest a presence other than the mathematical order with which the protagonist tries to interpret the whole reality. Jacques Lacan probably would have called this presence “Das Ding” (translated with “The Thing”), an entity coming from the depths of Being, refractory to any form of logical schematism or to the cognitive model adopted by the protagonist Max, which is based on principles and laws belonging to mathematics.

“Das Ding” is also what is manifested in the Go board, an ancient game in which Max and his friend and mentor Sol engage in discussions on theories and studies elaborated by both. The Go board is subdivided by a geometric grid, a moment of balance, in which during the course of the game each player places a stone per turn, evaluating the move made by the opponent. It can therefore be deduced that, although the chessboard is geometrically ordered, the chances of two identical matches occurring are zero. Max’s goal is to grasp the flow of life through geometric schemes, but as in the game of Go, there are elements that evade the rationality. The impossibility of grasping the flow of life (in this case of the game itself) through a geometric grid is evident.

It is interesting to note how the contrast between Light and Darkness, between Order and Chaos, is also highlighted by the director’s excellent choice to shoot the film in black and white. Furthermore, the selection of the soundtrack is perfectly fitting to this context: the music of Aphex Twin, Autechre, Massive Attack, Orbital, Gus Gus, Clint Mansell and other pivotal artists of the electronic music scene offers a claustrophobic atmosphere that perfectly mirrors the plot.

As Max’s research continues, migraines become more and more frequent. They give him so much pain that at the end he grabs a drill to eradicate a vein above the ear, his source of pain, highlighted by Max with a rectangle. In the next scene, the protagonist’s face in the foreground fades and finally the pure white invades the screen, leaving room for multiple interpretations.

The final scene of the film has an unspeakable poetic. Max is unable to answer the elementary math questions he is asked by a little girl, his neighbor. In fact, he has forgotten all mathematical laws, but all in all his face is as serene as it ever was during the film. Afterwards, Max turns his gaze to the leaves. They fly in the wind, while the sunlight penetrates between them, and now the relaxing electronic music allows the viewer to have moments of calm, matching the current mood of the protagonist. Once the geometric patterns and mathematical laws have gone away, Max returns to be “sensitive to the leaves”, to the surrounding reality.

When the act of pursuing an abstract goal, in this case the search for the Regulatory Principle, becomes the only reason for living, or an obsession, the sensitivity for everything else is lost, as the process of abstraction separates the Subject from the Object. This abstraction can lead to permanent dissatisfaction, generating a void in the human soul. In order to disrupt this perverse mechanism, it’s necessary to re-establish the relationship between us and the surrounding environment: this lets us restore our natural sensitivity.

Stop thinking, Max. Just feel. Use your intuition.

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