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How Darren Aronofsky Used Esoterica in the 1998 Film “Pi” to Become a Media Darling

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π (or Pi) is a mathematical constant that is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, and is approximately equal to 3.14159.  Pi is noteworthy in esoteric literature because author John Taylor discovered that if one divides the perimeter of the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt by its height, one obtains a close approximation to two times Pi.   This idea was presented in the book The Great Pyramid: Why Was It Built? And Who Built It?, first published in 1859.

Pi is also the name of a low-budget, surreal independent film written, directed and produced in 1998 by New York filmmaker Darren Aronofksy.  Movie posters featured the now familiar one-eye image, along with the phrase “faith in chaos.”  (The film is not to be confused with the 2012 film Life of Pi).

Aronofsky graduated in 1991 from Harvard with a degree in social anthropology.  He was clearly no stranger to deeper threads recurring throughout human history.

He made the breakout film on a relatively miniscule $60,000 budget raised in $100 donations received from family and friends.  The independently financed film was shot entirely in grainy, black and white footage.

The film is notable to VC readers for two reasons.  First, it is rife with overt use of esoterica.  Tellingly, the tagline on the movie’s official website reads: “paranoia is faith in a hidden order behind the visible.”  The website directs readers to further works about the Kabbalah, chaos theory and numerology.

Second, it was the vehicle by which Aronofsky first drew the attention of the Hollywood elites.  He would later produce and direct major productions such as Requiem for a Dream, the Wrestler and Black Swan, which VC readers are familiar with as recent tour de force.  Aronofsky is currently working on a soon-to-be-released film titled “Noah,” about the Biblical patriarch.

In Pi, Maximillian (“Max”) Cohen, the film’s protagonist, is a neurotic New York graduate student and genius mathematician who believes that everything in the world can be totally understood through numbers.

The protagonist’s name choice was not an accident as “Max Cohen” is a clever way to describe a “high priest,” as Max is the common abbreviation for maximum (the highest or greatest) and Cohen (or “Cohain”) is Hebrew for “priest.”  (The latter etymology is actually mentioned in the film’s dialogue).

Max is capable of mentally doing calculations involving large numbers, which impresses a young girl who lives in his dingy New York apartment building.

Max also suffers from recurring migraine headaches, as well as extreme paranoia and hallucinations.  Max’s only regular social interaction is with his former mathematics mentor, an elderly math professor from Columbia University named Sol.  Sol is the shortened Latin word for sun (“solis”).

Max begins attempting to make predictions in the stock market based upon the calculations of his computer, which he names Euclid.  Euclid is a direct reference to a branch of Greek geometry developed in Alexandria, Egypt circa 300 B.C.

While printing out stock predictions, Max’s computer Euclid melts down, but only after spitting out a strange 216-digit number.  The next morning, Max checks the newspaper’s financial pages, and is shocked to discover that the prediction that Euclid made was 100% accurate.

Max mentions his success to his mentor, Sol.  Sol becomes unnerved when Max describes the number, asking if it contained 216 digits.  It is clear that Sol has come across this mysterious number before, but he appears unwilling to reveal its origins or meaning to Max.  He urges Max to take a vacation from his research.

At a local coffee shop, Max runs into Lenny Meyer, a Hasidic Jew who performs mathematical research on the Torah.

Lenny is probably short for Leonard, which derives from the world for “Lion.”  Among German Jews, “Meyer” converged with the etymologically unconnected name “Meir”, which is derived from Hebrew, which means “to give light.”

Meyer demonstrates the correspondence of the Hebrew alphabet to numbers to Max, and explains how some Jews believe that the Torah is a very long string of numbers that represents a hidden code sent by God.  Max takes an interest when he realizes that some of the numerological concepts that Meyer is describing are familiar to him as part of mathematics theory.

For example, Meyer mentions that the Hebrew words for the “Tree of Knowledge” and the “Garden of Eden” are connected to other esoteric mathematical concepts used by Michelangelo and DaVinci, such as the Fibonacci sequence.

Max narrates that the Fibonacci sequence is a series of numbers that leads to the “Golden Rectangle,” which helps to explain why galaxies, sunflowers as well as cream in a coffee cup are based on spiral patterns.

Indeed, the Mystery Schools and Pythagoreans loved this shape for one can find it everywhere in nature: the Nautilus Shell, rams’ horns, milk in coffee, the face of a Sunflower, your fingerprints, our DNA, and the shape of the Milky Way.

Max is also being stalked by representatives of a Wall Street investment firm, who are interested in his work in predicting the stock market.  One of the investment firm’s representatives offers Max a classified computer chip called “Ming Mecca” in exchange for the results of his work, which Max accepts.

Ming Mecca seems to be a double reference to the ancient Chinese Ming dynasty and the sacred city of Islam. In other words, the chip represents adding additional mystical powers from the Far East and Middle East, without which full gnosis cannot be obtained.

Using the new technology, Max configures Euclid to analyze mathematical patterns in the Torah.  Euclid then spits out the 216-digit number before crashing once again.

When his computer refuses to print out the string of numbers, Max begins to write them down. Midway through, Max realizes that he knows the pattern, undergoes an epiphany, and passes out. Thereafter, Max appears to become clairvoyant and is able to mentally visualize the stock market patterns he had been searching for.  But his migraines also increase in number and intensity, and he discovers a strange vein-like bulge protruding from his right temple.  It appears that the number is changing him somehow.

Max is kidnapped by the Hasidic Jews affiliated with Lenny Meyer, who demand that Max give them the number.  They finally reveal their true intentions in stalking Max:  They apparently believe this sacred number was intended for them to bring about the messianic age, as the number represents the unspeakable name of God.

An elder Rabbi explains to Max that the ancient Jews once possessed this sacred name of God, and the High Priest would utter it only once per year in the holy of holies in the Temple in Jerusalen, but the name was lost.  They have searched for it for nearly 2,000 years, without success.

They now demand to receive it from Max, who refuses.  Max points out that the sacred number was “revealed to him,” and not them, thus making him the true new high priest of Jerusalem.

Max flees their clutches and tries to visit Sol, only to find that he has suffered a stroke.  Max searches his mentor’s apartment and finds scrawled handwriting on shreds of paper, eventually finding a piece of paper with the same mystical 216-digit number on it.  It has nearly killed Sol.

Driven to the point of insanity, Max experiences another migraine but resists the urge to take his painkillers.  Believing that the number and the headaches are connected, Max tries to concentrate on the number through the pain.

Losing consciousness, Max is standing in a white, colorless void and repeating each digit of the mystical number under his breath.  Max burns the paper with the number and performs an impromptu surgery on himself by drilling into his right temple with large power tool.

Later, the little girl who had been impressed by Max’s mathematical skills, approaches him as he is sitting silently on a park bench.  She asks him seemingly random math problems, including 748 ÷ 238, which is an approximation for the mathematical constant Pi.  Max just smiles and claims that he doesn’t know the answer.  He observes the trees blowing in the breeze, at peace with the universe.  He has now achieved gnosis and transcended.

Indeed, Max has achieved complete gnosis through the internalization of the sacred name of God that has been revealed to him through his research.

The esoteric references in Pi are ubiquitous, and not hidden.

First, the sacred name of God actually plays an important role in the occult and in secret societies. Used by medieval black magicians to summon demons, the sacred name of God was believed to be a weapon of sorts, used to command legions of spirits to do the black magician’s will.

Further, the historical narrative described by the Rabbi to Max appears relatively genuine as a matter of apocryphal Judaism.  In the narrative, the Jews were chosen by God to guard the full Tetragrammaton as a form of esoteric knowledge, but the priestly class became corrupt and appears to have lost it.

Consequently, in the film, the esoteric wisdom is now only bestowed on those “worthy” to receive it.  There is no question that Aronofsky’s esoteric film ingratiated him with the elites, who quickly adopted him into their inner circles.

Since Pi was released in 1998, Aronofsky’s films quickly escalated in both stature and budget, and would eventually win numerous Academy Awards.  He later went on to direct Black Swan, another Academy Award winning film previously discussed by VC for its esoteric subtexts.

All of Aronofsky’s movies are replete with esoteric references.  For example, the Fountain is a complex, textured movie made by Warner Brothers, worthy of a full analysis in its own right.

For those VC readers interested in seeing firsthand how a young, budding Harvard-educated filmmaker used family donations to convert esoterica into making a major name for himself in modern Hollywood, Pi is worth dusting off the shelf.

The post How Darren Aronofsky Used Esoterica in the 1998 Film “Pi” to Become a Media Darling appeared first on The Vigilant Citizen.


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