a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Pi (1998)
Darren Aronofsky (director)
Highly Rated!
Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for literati.

A mathematician discovers a new relationship between chaos theory and the number Pi which makes him a target of a dangerous religious sect and a greedy investor. The references to mathematics and its power in this film are interesting, but the moral seems to be: it is better to get a lobotomy than to be a mathematician.

When this low budget film earned awards and blockbuster status, Variety ran an article with the headline "π=$1,000,000"!

Contributed by anonymous

"For a while in the 1990's the world record for calculating digits of pi was held by the Chudnovsky brothers, David and Gregory, using a computer they designed and built themselves from mail-order parts in their New York apartment. The brothers and their wacky machine were featured in an entertaining article published in New Yorker magazine. Along with contemporary attempts to explain financial markets in terms of fractals and chaos, one suspects that this may be the inspiration for this movie. Mathematician Max Cohen has (guess what) built a huge ramshackle computer in his apartment to help him work on the digits of pi, and discovers that it can predict the stock market. Surprisingly, this makes him neither rich nor happy. Completely over the top, but delivered with a certain stylish intensity."

Contributed by Isaac Fischer

"Amazing editing and excellent movie. Should be viewed more as someone's nightmare than an actual reality. Reminiscent of the movie `Kafka'."

Contributed by Matt

"This film is possibly less about mathamatics than it is about a man desperately trying to explain to himself how the world works using the only language he truly understands; the language of mathamatics. This dead ended pursuit for patterns in chaotic systems drives our tragic-hero closer and closer to the brink of madness. Max cohen's desperate struggle is contrasted nicely with the relaxation and appreciation of the arts found by Sol, an older mathamatician who when searching for patterns in pi came close to the same discovery which Max makes when looking for patterns in the stock market. Sol holds the belief that no human being can physically sort through all of that chaos to find the pattern and blames his studies for his stroke. The fact that Sol dies when he resumes his studies and finds a solution is mirrored by the fact that once Max makes his discovery he feels that he has to lobotomise himself to end the suffering. rating 3.14 (sorry that was an obvious joke, i would actually rate this film as a 4.6/5) "

Contributed by eddieC

"I do not fully understand the film as such; I mean, it is not just a guy with a computer trying to figure out a number, and some nasty people chasing him. This is a film about life. I have noticed many things through the film which I don't understand, (such as the flies. It comes back again and again, but why?) but I have to say that it is brilliant. Gullette is brilliant, the filming is brilliant, it is a brilliant film. And it's about Maths! It focuses on a 216-digit number, Max is obsessed about numbers, there is no escaping the fact that Mathematics is central to this film. It is hugely imaginative, and as soon as I find out what the many metaphors mean, I will be hapy, for I will understand it. But until then, I just like it because it is a dark dark film, and seems so accurate about everything. It just seems so precise."

Contributed by John C. Konrath

Generally, I was disappiointed by this film. While I enjoyed the mathematics and some of the characters I found the film painful to watch. Furthermore, I believe this film was heavily influence by Robert Littell's novel "The Visiting Professor" which tells a similar tale in a far more interesting manner.

Contributed by Charles Freudenthal

Moody and fascinatingly strange. A nightmare world.

Contributed by robert

This is probably my favorite movie of all time. I own three copies of the DVD and first saw it when it was out in VHS. Then I also owned a couple of copies. I just wanted to have an extra in good condition, so I could watch it when I reached my 80th birthday ! Just the other day I bought a copy just because it was available on Amazon for 47 cents ! Just couldn't pass it up. The black and white "reversal" film (normally used to make slides) gives it a stark contrasty quality which is very artistic. The plot is excellent and Max (the main character) is played perfectly by Sean Gullette. It's got math and the stock market and Hassidic Kabbalists. In all, one Big Adventure. A true action (of the mind) film.

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Works Similar to Pi
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Strange Attractors by Charles Soule (author) / Greg Scott (Illustrator)
  2. The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke
  3. The Hollow Man by Dan Simmons
  4. The Zero Theorem by Pat Rushin (screenplay) / Terry Gilliam (director)
  5. Grigori’s Solution by Isobelle Carmody
  6. The Gimatria of Pi by Lavie Tidhar
  7. Brain Dead by Charles Beaumont (writer) / Adam Simon (director)
  8. The Visiting Professor by Robert Littell
  9. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  10. Cube by Vincenzo Natali (Director)
Ratings for Pi:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
3.79/5 (20 votes)
Literary Quality:
3.91/5 (22 votes)

GenreScience Fiction, Horror,
MotifMental Illness, Religion,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory, Chaos/Fractals, Mathematical Finance,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)