10 Fascinating Facts About Pi

Artisan Entertainment
Artisan Entertainment

Pi, Darren Aronofsky’s debut feature, is a manic flash through conspiratorial surrealism and number theory. It’s the kind of thing you watch at night if you want to make yourself anxious before you go to sleep.

Pi is also the last gasp of 1990s indie filmmaking, with its heavy black and vibrant white chiaroscuro backing frothy-mouthed intellectualism that either made people turn their heads or turn away. With its fiery peek into one man’s obsession, Aronofsky announced himself as the kind of fierce talent who would go on to make Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan, and mother!.

Here are 10 facts about the low-budget freakout.

1. It was financed with small investments from Darren Aronofsky's friends and family members.

It took five years and a lot of $100 checks for Darren Aronofsky to raise the nearly $60,000 needed to make Pi. After his senior thesis landed in the finals for a Student Academy Award and he earned his MFA in directing from the AFI Conservatory, the aspiring pro approached “friends, family, enemies, everyone” with a promise of converting their money into a small profit if the film delivered. It did. Artisan Entertainment bought it for over $1 million.

2. In order to save money, they filmed illegally.

In order to film in many public places, you need permits ... unless you’re on an ultra-tight budget, and you’re willing to risk fines and jail time. Aronofsky was willing to risk it, so the crew shot several scenes—most notably on the subway—without securing the proper permits because the young director didn’t want to (or couldn’t) pay for them.

3. Frank Miller's sin City comic book inspired The film's look.

Stephen Pearlman in 'Pi' (1998)
Artisan Entertainment

Sin City would come out in movie form almost a decade after Pi, but the comic book inspired Aronofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s vision for their film. “Matty was brave enough to take on Reversal film, which many of us shot in film school, and its black and white Reversal, extremely hard film stock to expose,” Aronofsky told IndieWire in 1998. "We didn’t want it to end up looking like Clerks and be all gray. We wanted it to be black or white. We were inspired by Sin City by Frank Miller—he just does white scratches into black ink."

4. At its heart, it's about the danger of searching for order.

Pi isn’t so much about math as it is about trying to use numbers to find patterns in reality, whether it's in the search for God or control or something broaching enlightenment. Max’s (Sean Gullette) focus on his supercomputer’s theoretical capabilities offers a lesson in not seeing the forest for the millimeter of bark you’re examining. According to Aronofsky, “The major point of Pi is that the search for order—for meaning, for God—is usually so one-dimensional and so pinpointed, and often leads to the destruction of the ego and the self and leads to death. And the beauty of the world is in the chaos and in the reality of what is now."

5. The film was shot from Max's perspective.

One of the reasons the film is so effective at raising our blood pressure is because we end up seeing the world through its crazed protagonist’s eyes. “The idea behind Pi was to make a fully subjective movie,” Aronofsky said. “We can shoot the other actors almost POV, almost straight-on, but Sean was almost always shot in profile so he was more of an objective, and the audience was seeing his point of view more subjectively ... Because we were trying to be subjective, every little gimmick we did, we tried to have a reason for."

6. There are patterns embedded within the movie itself.

Just as Max searches for—and finds—patterns in life tied to numbers, Aronofsky and company thought it would be fun to use patterns in constructing the movie, leading several fans to come up with some intense theories. “Some of the structural things we did relate back to the spirals and also the Fibonacci sequence,” Aronofsky told Patheos. “For instance, we even shot the film in a ratio called 1.68 which is rarely ever shot. It’s shot sometimes in Europe, but it’s never really shot in America, and the reason we shot that is because that’s the Golden Ratio.” The rest of the patterns you’ll have to find yourself.

7. It was the launching pad for three modern masters of cinema.

Before all the awards and accolades, there was a crew working for deferred pay hoping to make something special. Aronofsky, of course, would go on to ride the ups and downs of divisive filmmaking to acclaim and an Academy Award nomination, but Pi was also the first film for cinematographer Matthew Libatique and composer Clint Mansell. Libatique got his Oscar nod for shooting Black Swan, and has worked with Spike Lee, Jodie Foster, and Marvel. Mansell is a world class composer who, in addition to scoring several Aronofsky movies, has made music for Moon, Black Mirror, and Park Chan-wook.

8. It cost more to finish the film than it did to shoot it.

Pi's total production budget was $60,927, which went to set dressing (“computer stuff”), music (“the whole thing was done on a keyboard”), and other unavoidable expenses like trucks and film and camera rentals. Post-production, on the other hand, cost $68,183, most of which went to post-production sound, post-production film and lab work, and film editing.

9. Ant hills gave Aronofsky the idea for the film.

Sean Gullette in 'Pi' (1998)
Artisan Entertainment

Ants eventually invade Max’s apartment, but Aronofsky also owes the movie to Formicidae pals (as well as a road trip through the Yucatan Peninsula). “We started to notice that in the middle of this plaza there are these giant anthills about two or three feet high,” Aronofsky told The Washington Post. “The openings are like the size of volleyballs, and there are rivers of ants flowing between the different anthills and rivers going out into the rain forest. And we just watched them for an hour, and I just had this moment—one of those epiphanies in life—which is realizing that, here in the center of one of the greatest human civilizations of all time, that’s completely extinct, that’s been inherited by the ants, they’re totally unaware of us ... And what the hell are we unaware of that’s going on above us?”

10. It's made in the sci-fi tradition of Philip K. Dick.

Tossing Pi into one genre is a tough task, but its roots are most clearly in science fiction, which makes the miniscule budget a rarity, especially in the CGI boom of the 1990s. “I always think of science fiction as a state of mind, not special effects,” Aronofsky told Filmmaker Magazine. “All those Star Wars movies took sci-fi down the effects road for the last 20 years. The interesting science fiction is the inner space, the return to the work of Philip K. Dick. Blowing up sh*t doesn’t do it for us anymore.” He also cited The Twilight Zone as a major inspiration and Rod Serling as the “patron saint of the movie.”

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Hilarious Andy Bernard Blooper You Can Actually See in The Office

Ed Helms as Andy Bernard in The Office.
Ed Helms as Andy Bernard in The Office.
NBCUniversal Media, LLC

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't love the humor of The Office, and even the cast themselves couldn't get enough of the sometimes cringe-worthy comedy. In a past interview, Ed Helms, who played the hilarious Andy Bernard, revealed the one scene he just could not stop laughing in during filming.

As Looper reports, the actor stopped by The Dan Patrick Show in 2018 to talk all things Dunder Mifflin. When asked if he had a hard time keeping the laughter to a minimum, Helms revealed there had been a number of times he couldn't keep a straight face. In fact, he had to hide from the camera in one scene to mask his laughter, which made it into the final cut.

"I was a disaster. Just breaking all the time. Steve Carell, he just slays me," Helms said. "A lot of times, if I was doing a scene with Steve, I would have to look at his chin. Because I couldn't look him in the eyes. I would lose it." When looking back on the holiday episode "Secret Santa," the actor recalled, "I had to duck behind a plant. You can see in the actual episode in the background. And, by the way, that was like take 30 because I had been laughing in every single take."

If you look closely at the moment where Kevin sits on Michael's lap, you can also see Mindy Kaling failing to hide her laughter in the background. This scene really had the Dunder Mifflin crew losing it, just like the fans watching from home.

[h/t Looper]