Sunday 9 October 2016

The Man Who Knew Infinity

Directed by Matt Brown, "The Man Who Knew Infinity" is the true story of Srinivasa Ramanujan, played by Dev Patel (‘Slumdog Millionaire’, ‘Chappie’), an Indian mathematician from the early 1900s who, despite having no formal education, manages to get invited to Trinity College in Cambridge to look at publishing his ground-breaking mathematical work. Told from the point of view of professor and mentor G.H. Hardy, played by Jeremy Irons (‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’), we see the inspiration of Ramanujan and how he came up with such genius ideas, but also the prejudice that he faced being an uneducated Indian in a very educated, British establishment.

There’s a lot of famous faces in ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ – as well as Patel and Irons we’ve also got Stephen Fry as Indian-based civil engineer Sir Francis Spring, and Toby Jones as fellow professor J. E. Littlewood. It’s Patel and Irons who really make it though – although the other characters are portrayed well, we don’t see too much of them, instead focusing on the relationship between (surname) and Hardy. Which is fair enough, as it’s that particular focus that really makes this film worth watching.

The story is incredible in itself – Ramanujan really was some sort of genius, and he spoke the language of maths in a way that very few have been able to. Unfortunately for the subject matter however, maths is not something that enthrals that many people. This is why I’m thankful that relationships and dynamics were focused on so much, as without that it wouldn’t have made quite such an interesting film. 

It was also difficult in that a lot of the concepts that featured within the film were very hard to get across to any viewers that don’t understand mathematics to degree level, or perhaps more. Sure, we could see that partition functions and so on were important to Ramanujan, but it felt like the beautiful shots of his scribbled workings were wasted, as I frankly had no idea what the hell they meant (the explanation of partition functions did help, but sadly this was the only useful explanation throughout the whole film). 

Visually it was a lovely film though – slow, but carefully thought-out. The scenery was of course gorgeous, and it was nice to see the comparison between the raw, colourful Madras and the more structured, ornate grounds of Trinity College. The whole film got the culture shock across really well, and hadn’t failed to include the specifics.

As Ramanujan isn’t quite as well-known as the main focuses of other, similar biopics (Stephen Hawkins in ‘The Theory of Everything’ and Alan Turing from ‘The Imitation Game’), I think it’s important that a film has been made about him. There really something incredible about his ways of thinking, and many of the mathematical theories that he developed are still of great importance in the mathematical world today. Although the plot is a tad predictable and the subject matter isn’t one that will appeal to all audiences, Brown has certainly given it a good shot.


Hannah Read

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