reviewing: "π - Faith in Chaos"

So two weekends ago when I visited Charleston, by 4th grade teacher and long friend Mrs. Fisher sent me an off-to-college card with a Best Buy gift card inside.  So Saturday night, Anastasia and I went on a shopping spree, and I bought - among other things - a Darren Aronofsky Collection with two movies: Requiem for a Dream (the movie which prompted me to buy this collection) and π.  I had seen Requiem for a Dream before; it's a little disturbing, but it's a great movie.  I'm sure that if we showed it in middle school, teenage drug use would decline.

But I had never seen π before, and the low price of the collection prompted me to buy the set.  Last night, I watched it with Karen and Sammy.  It was... okay.  I loved the concept; a mathematician obsessed with finding order in chaos, and convinced that the entire universe and everything in it can be perfectly described with mathematics.  Thus, he tackles one of the most chaotic systems in history: the stock market.

Already slight off his knocker, his attempts at ordering the stock market - and, later on, using similar patterns to find the true name of God - are unsuccessful, although he does come very close (there are hints that he actually does understand the patterns, but, even if this were so, he is unable to apply them to any real problems).  Between his existing mental problems, the pressure of sorting through the disorder, and the consistent attacks by organizations - both religious and corporate - leeching off of his talents for their own good eventually do him in.

So it was a pretty good movie... until I heard something wrong.  As soon as I heard it, the rest of the movie lost its reality and truth that normally makes movies really hit hard with me.  The issue was when he referred to the golden ratio (which, for the curious, is exactly equal to (1+sqrt(5))/2) as theta.  I've actually done lots of reading on the golden ratio and on sacred geometry in general, and I have never, ever seen it expressed as theta.  Traditionally, it is represented by the greek letter phi.

Instantly, I knew something was up.

He also used the Fibonacci sequence in the movie, and claimed that 233/144 approaches phi (which he again expressed as theta).  While it's true that the limit as t∞ of F(t)/F(t+1) does approach the golden ratio, 233/144 doesn't approach anything.  It's just 1.6180555555..., which is a static number very close to, but certainly not equal to, phi.  And it doesn't approach anything; it just is.

Anyway, I'm sure there were plenty more math errors.  One thing that particularly bothered me was that this brilliant number theorist who nearly predicts the future of the stock market was, at one point, pondering A=πr^2 and C=πd on the train, as if they held mythical truth.  As a matter of fact, wtf is this movie even called π?  It had nothing to do with circles!  He did find some golden spirals, but then the movie should be called Φ, not π.  I dunno.  The title confused me by the end.  Those basic area and circumference equations were the only real reference to π, except of its basic nature as an irrational number.

Anyway, if you watch it, let me know what you think!  Despite my mathematical distress, it was, overall, a pretty okay movie worth watching once or twice just so you can say you did.  And, in a brilliant stroke of coolness, it's in black and white!


  1. Not only did they screw up most of the math, they screwed up a lot of the stuff about ancient Jewish texts. For instance, you couldn't turn 216 Hebrew characters into a 216-digit number: Hebrew numerals are non-positional and there's no 0. It's not a movie about math; it's a movie about mysticism. They're trying to drag math down to mysticism's level, and I personally find that very offensive.

  2. I mean way to go matthew. You let the movie pi, whose themes I believe (though I was quite drunk when i saw it) stand for themselves regardless of hard mathematics, be ruined because you are a geek.

  3. Hey, I quite liked the movie. I'm just saying that the failures at math made me a little uneasy at times. In general, it was a pretty okay motion picture that I'd watch again some night.

    Whoa, whoa... it had themes?