5-24-2016 MOVIE REVIEW: THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY (2016)
You’ve probably heard of Isaac Newton for his work in using mathematics to explain real-life, real-world scientific phenomena, but for as much attention as he’s garnered inside classrooms and throughout the world, little to no-one outside the doors of mathematics departments have heard of Indian mathematician and prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan better known by his last name “Ramanujan” and the impact he’s had in pushing the boundaries of the subject.
Ramanujan’s life story is fascinating, the way he was brought up in the low end of the Indian caste system, became an adolescent child prodigy during his teenage years writing on the sidewalks with chalk and eventually winding up being discovered by G.H. Hardy of Trinity College in Cambridge right around the height of World War I. Ramanujan’s story is one of both triumph and tragedy and certainly one that needed to be told given his work was not only monumental at the time of its discovery, but was foundational to the concept of Mathematics as we know it today.
Dev Patel, star of the Academy Award winning Best Picture film “Slumdog Millionaire”, plays Ramanujan and is faced with the difficult task of playing a character whose short life was filled with so many different directions and stages (that is to say within a five year period Ramanujan went from looking for a job to being brought over to Cambridge and studying under the tutelage of G.H. Hardy). “The Man Who Knew Infinity” also focuses on the relationship Ramanujan had with his wife and the impact leaving India for England had on his personal life. Though elated for the opportunity of a lifetime to learn from the best in the field, there are moments throughout the middle half of this picture when audiences are led to believe Ramanujan is so homesick that in fact he may have been happier had he just stayed back in India.
While there are so many different take home messages, perhaps the most notable of them all was the rude treatment of Ramanujan by others in the math department despite his brilliancy and all of his successes at the university level and beyond; even G.H. Hardy at times couldn’t see the human side of Ramanujan beyond his ability to write formulas, theorize and crunch numbers. There were times in this picture, from the very beginning where Ramanujan is first introduced to the department, to him being ridiculed by other faculty in the classroom, to his election as a Fellow of the Royal Mathematics Society that it was as if members of the Math community at large were gunning at him from all angles purposely trying to see an outside-foreigner fail. The grace and patient manner in which Ramanujan handles adversity is something to be admired; especially in the more serious latter half of the film. I won’t forget the scene when Ramanugan arrives at Trinity and is elated to find a large stack of white, writing paper awaiting for him in his room –paper was expensive and incredibly hard to come by in India. From a visual perspective this film is stunning with imagery of the Indian wilderness, landscape and wildlife that will bring back memories of Jean Renoir’s 1951 film “The River”.
“The Man Who Knew Infinity” represents everything that is true and original in cinematic filmmaking and was an absolute pleasure to watch. One of the great biopics on one of the most intriguing stories and important mathematicians to have ever lived. I give “The Man Who Knew Infinity” 3.5 out of 4 stars.