Pi - the movie

    Keywords: Culture & History

Pi is a 1998 movie (filmed in black and white) by Darren Aronofsky about a man chasing the mathematical patterns in life, natural processes, and in particular the stockmarket. The title refers to the irrational number Pi, defined as the ratio of circumference and diameter of a circle.

The main character, Max, regularly visits his mentor, Sol, to exchange ideas while playing a game of Go. The game they play is shown in several scenes (see Reconstruction of the Pi Game); another scene has Sol expounding on the limitless possibilities in Go.

Link: [ext] http://www.pithemovie.com/pithemovie.html

Dieter thinks the main character plays very sloppy for a genius.

The DVD commentary tracks contain information on how Go became a part of the story, and part of the lives of the filmmakers.

Darren Aronofsky, director:

"...originally we were going to play Chess, but Eric Watson, the producer of the film, was like 'Hey, what about Go?' I didn't really know how the game worked but we decided to go and research it, and we hung out with the Brooklyn Go Club, and I brought the actors there. There was something really beautiful about the circles of the pieces and the grid, it was very mathematical and geometrical...

"I started to meet lots of mathematicians who were fascinated by the game and decided to make it part of the film. The black and white didn't hurt either."

Sean Gullette, lead actor ("Maximillian Cohen"):

"Mark (Margolis, the actor for "Sol Robeson") and I went with Darren (Aronofsky) and Eric (Watson) to a number of Go-playing groups including the Go Club of Brooklyn, who gave us very interesting lessons in the game, and some of the background and history of this extraordinary, elegant game.

"We built a Go set on the set and would play while sitting between scenes, and eventually everybody in the crew and a number of the cast members became recreational Go players and would have to interrupt their games to go work.

"Go is so fundamentally different from Chess that one of the Go players we met described the Vietnam War as an encounter between the United States playing Chess and the Viet Cong playing Go; the approach is so different."

-- Bignose

...and in their gratitude they donated the multi-$1,000 go goodies to the Club when they were done, right??? Note to self - contact film directors in the country to try and get go in their movies...


I think i read that Janice Kim helped with at least some of the game positions, which were based on a game by Shusaku. Ahrg, now i'm going to have to ransack my apartment to find that article (still looking).

-- TakeNGive

Quote : Both actors spent many hours with the Brooklyn Go Club learning the fundamental rules and the complex etiquette of the game to bring an accurate portrayal to the film.

Jasonred : Sadly, it appears those hours were spent with ten minutes explaining rules, and the rest explaining good habits of Go, and etiquette... like how to hold the stones, keeping your hand out of the bowl... you know, IMPORTANT stuff... I mean, who needs to know how to play, as long as you look cool?

Note: I am 20 kyu, and have only played one game on a real board, and do not foresee gobans in the near future. One day, I hope to be the only Shodan player who doesn't know how to hold the stones...

(moved here from Pi - SV)

Several years ago, a film appeared that featured a strong thematic subplot focused on Go. This movie, Pi, (on the web at [ext] http://www.pithemovie.com), featured a stark black and white videotrack and a superb electronic soundtrack.

I had mixed feelings about the film when I saw it in the theatre, and I'm probably due for another viewing; most of its references to Go have to do with infinity and the inherent unknowability of the universe. The major actors spent some time in the Brooklyn Go Club, learning how to play in order to accurately represent it onscreen.

Overall, I felt that the movie -- while delving into some very intriguing and complex issues -- left me with an unsettled feeling. The themes that came and went -- including Go -- seemed thin and insubstantial. They seemed to point vaguely toward the main character's quests, but ultimately didn't provide any assistance for him.

I, on the other hand, have found Go to be an immensely enlightening game (in fact, 'game' seems like an inappropriate word). I shall babble on further in Scartol/Philosophy of Go.

-- Scartol

I've just watched the film again, and radically revised my opinion of it. I saw a hundred things I missed the first time through. Maybe I should just refrain from commenting on anything worth commenting on until after the second viewing.

Nonetheless, a few thoughts stand out. The main one being my profound impression that this movie is, through and through, a tragedy. On first viewing, I thought Max (the main character) was happy at the end of the film, free from the prison of numbers.

But now I feel that he's flipped. Instead of finding pure order, he has embraced pure chaos. Neither of which holds the key to true happiness. True, he'll never again be tormented with the agony of the 216 digit number; but he'll also never enjoy the beauty of the numbers behind the spiral.

As I wrote in Scartol/Philosophy of Go, it seems that the key to success in Go (and Zen, and Max's life) is finding the balance between chaos and order. The Zen masters speak of the sound of one hand, the man biting the cliff who cannot speak and cannot remain silent. Ying and yang, chaos and order. Neither one nor the other.

-- Scartol

AshleyF Anybody else notice that the hundreds of digits scrolling across the screen in the opening are only accurate to the 8th decimal place? :-)

Bignose: I tip my hat to you, sir; you're a bigger pedant than I :-) The opening credits have a sequence where a large "pi" symbol is shown, then the characters "3.14" appear in slow succession, followed by an endless stream of digits in lines scrolling up the screen. We *presume* these are digits of Pi.

However, the number differs from Pi after the 8th decimal place. The first line shows the following 29 decimal places (as far as my TV shows; there may be another digit on the first line after this one):


whereas Pi to 29 decimal places is:


I guess their budget for the film was so low they couldn't afford more than eight places, even though it's been over 400 years since the 30th place was calculated :-)

In french, we have a poem that allows us to remember 30 decimals for pi. It goes like this:

Que j'aime à faire apprendre un nombre utile aux sages
3   1 4    1 5     9         2  6      5     3   5
Immortel Archimède artiste ingénieur
8        9         7       9
Qui de ton jugement peut priser la valeur
3   2  3   8        4    6      2  6
Pour moi ton problème eut de pareils avantages
4    3   3   8        3   2  7       9

Take the number of letters in each word, and you've got some pi. I think they only got the 8 first digits right because to get pi, they only had a pocket calculator, or an approximate formula like 355/113.


holosys: I remember reading a mnemonic in a Martin Gardner maths book years ago:

How I want a drink, alcoholic of course,
3 . 1  4   1   5        9     2    6
after the heavy chapters involving
  5    3    5       8        9
quantum mechanics.
   7        9

However I always managed to get by at university on 355/113.

Uberdude: This menomic continues:

All of thy geometry, Herr Planck, is fairly hard.
3   2  3   8         4    6       2  6      4

I recommend that you don't get drunk soon after learning this as quoting it at a party tends to make people nervously edge away from you ;-).

Pi - the movie last edited by on February 15, 2007 - 16:33
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