Pi

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Pi Movie Poster Image
Darren Aronofsky's debut feature is brilliant and intense.
  • R
  • 1998
  • 84 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

While there's nothing conclusive, the movie dabbles in all kinds of mysteries that could possibly exist in the real world, from the mystery of pi (is there a pattern?) to the stock market, to the Torah, to other mathematical equations and to the idea of patterns in nature (spirals). Plenty for thoughtful minds to ponder.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While Max is brilliant, he seems to be using his gifts for personal gain (predicting the stock market) and is almost unfailingly rude to others, even when others are trying to be nice to him. All other characters seem to have ulterior motives, and, seen through Max's paranoid eyes, can't be trusted.

Violence

Hero gets several bloody noses. Dripping blood/puddle of blood. Gun shown. Punching, biting. Hero poking at/smashing brain. Drill through side of skull. Violent, scary sounds, such as screeches, banging, etc. Arguing/yelling. Chasing. Bugs crawling on computer. Motherboards covered in icky goop.

Sex

Sex noises, sex-related dialogue heard through apartment wall.

Language

Uses of "f--k," "s--t," "t-ts," "bastard," "goddamn," "damn," "hell," "piss," "oh my God."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Hero pops several handfuls of prescription pills (for his headaches). He takes an injection. He talks about things he's tried for his headaches, including marijuana, steroids, various drugs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pi is an independent sci-fi movie, the impressive feature debut of Darren Aronofsky. It's filled with brilliant ideas, but shot in a very grainy, bleached-out black-and-white, with shocking, intense images that, at times, make it almost like a horror movie. It's already a deserving cult classic, but it's not recommended for viewers under 16. It includes scary, loud noises, a bleeding nose, dripping blood, and nightmarish imagery, like brains. A gun is shown, and there's some fighting, arguing, and chasing. Language is strong, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," and other words. A couple can be heard having sex through the apartment walls, with some sex-related dialogue audible. The main character takes pills for his screeching headaches, and is said to have tried marijuana and other things to combat his malady.

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What's the story?

In PI, Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) is a mathematician who believes that there are patterns everywhere in nature, and is using this theory to find patterns in the stock market. He explains that, when he was young, he stared into the sun for too long, and now gets excruciating headaches that no remedy seems to help. During a test, his computer is fried, but not before printing an odd string of 216 numbers. His old professor, Sol (Mark Margolis), with whom he regularly meets for games of Go, says that in his own work he came across the same string, which he dismissed as a bug. Meanwhile, a Hasidic Jew, Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman), has begun pestering Max about patterns in the Torah, which also relates to the number 216. And sinister people in suits, led by the smiling Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart), begin showing up.

Is it any good?

Darren Aronofsky's grainy, bleached-out black-and-white debut feature puts together many intriguing ideas, bathed in intense sequences of pain and hallucination; it's challenging but rewarding. Released in 1998 and written by the director (based on a story by himself, actor Sean Gullette, and producer Eric Watson), Pi is an almost impossibly brilliant combination of ideas that seem as if they can come only from real life. The movie sends you away pondering the infinite possibilities of patterns and mathematics and religion and nature, as well as the possibility of something greater than ourselves.

Yet Aronofsky takes a vividly downbeat view of these things, as if their very existence would certainly drive a person insane, rather than revealing anything. Pi has a penchant for torment and anguish that the director explores in virtually all of his later works (especially Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan, and mother!). The grimy cinematography offers nothing to grab on to in terms of texture or color; the screeching, terrifying headache sequences are worthy of a horror movie; and the main character's final solution is as pessimistic as they come -- though it has a somewhat peaceful conclusion. Nonetheless, Pi is an intensely personal work, uncompromising and unforgettable, that deservedly became an instant cult classic.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Pi's use of violence. How does the movie use sound and light to convey a sense of intense unease? What other violence is shown or implied? What effect does it have?

  • How does the movie depict drugs? For what reason does the hero take drugs? Does he seem to be addicted? Are there consequences to his drug use?

  • What does the movie seem to be about? Is it good or bad to be thinking about mathematical patterns in the universe?

  • What are some scientific or mathematical ideas in the movie that appear to have come from real life? Were you inspired to do more research?

  • What is a "cult classic"? How does a movie become one?

Movie details

For kids who love science fiction

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