Daoism as a cure for the excesses of Western modern science in PI (D. Aronofsky, 1998)





Daoism, Pi (film), Aronofsky


Pi tells us the story of Maximilian Cohen, a young mathematician who tries to find a pattern within the decimals of number pi. Max assumes that Mathematics is the language of nature and believes everything can be rationally explained, predicted and controlled. His investigations arouse the interest of a Wall Street businesswoman who wants Max to help her forecast stock market movements. Moreover, a group of Jews try to convince him into re-purposing his research to the quest of the revelation of God’s real name. Throughout the film, the protagonist seems to be split in different ways. He is disconnected from the external world, as he replaces it with a mathematical and perfect image of it and avoids social interaction with its inhabitants. Besides, he is at odds with himself since he pretends to be a pure mind and neglects his body and its needs. Pi not only exhibits the Western modern desire to transcend human limitations but it also contrasts this worldview with several non-Western traditions of thought. Among them, Chinese culture and philosophy (and more specifically, Daoism) play an important part in Pi.

Our aim is to reveal the ways in which Daoism impregnates the film and to investigate the dialogue it opens between Western modern science imagery and the Daoist outlook. To do so, we analyse some special scenes from a thematic and a formal point of view, at the same time we recur to the main fonts of Daoism and to the writings of contemporary scholars. Firstly, we show how the excesses of Western modern science affect Max, focusing on his disconnection from the world and from himself. Thus, this section comments on Max’s hyper rational attitude, the external point of view on the world he pursues and the negation of his body. Secondly, we evaluate the ways in which Daoism is presented as a means of overcoming Max’s split by referring to human’s integration in nature as a saner way of relating to the world whilst also underlining the importance of body and self-care to Daoism. In this sense, we deal with the central notion of Dào, as well as with the concepts of xīn and wúwéi. Thirdly, we point at the dichotomies the film presents and pay a special attention to the way they progressively blur throughout the course of the movie and lead us to the Yīn-Yáng approach. Lastly, the conclusions wrap up our essay by reiterating its main points and offering a final evaluation of the dialogue Pi displays between Western modern imagery and the Daoist worldview.





How to Cite

Burgos, E. (2022). Daoism as a cure for the excesses of Western modern science in PI (D. Aronofsky, 1998). Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, (14), 41–56. https://doi.org/10.34619/wokp-g1sh