In 1998, not yet 30 years old, director Darren Aronofsky released Pi, his scrappy black-and-white debut. Clocking in at a manic 84 minutes, the film is as smart as it is darkly comedic, a feat considering nearly all those minutes are spent inside the deteriorating mind of a math genius named Max Cohen as he fumbles toward a unified theory of the universe. Even now, 25 years later, its brilliance is evidenced in its impact.
The decades have been good to Pi. Its happy swirl of Jewish mysticism, meaning-of-everything conspiracism, and Math’s Greatest Hits (along with pi, it bangs through the Fibonnaci sequence, the golden ratio, and Archimedes in the tub) has aged well. Each year, the concept of pi seems to grow annually in crossover popularity, via memes, novelty T-shirts, and all the attendant hoopla around Pi Day. (A personal favorite pi-in-the-culture moment: MF Doom rapping “Easy as pi, three point one four / one more one false move and you’re done for” on 2004’s “Great Day.”) So what role did the cultishly beloved Pi play in the growth of pi?
“I was making the movie in a very-early-internet universe,” Aronofsky says. “Information didn’t flow as obviously. You just had to hear things from people, learn about things from people. I remember when we were trying to research sacred geometry: There were only some fringe books that we had to order that took months to get to us. The Kabbalah stuff, it was before it had become part of the culture.”