The Man Who Knew Infinity: A misunderstood mind

Uninspiring:Dev Patel doesn’t bring much to the table as the math genius S Ramanujan.  

Like most geniuses, Srinivasa Ramanujan is a difficult man to understand. And sometimes it is better that a movie doesn’t strain itself in trying to make sense of everything.

Ramanujan was a degree-less self-taught math wiz; he failed in other subjects because he was only interested in maths. He was also a pious Brahmin and a staunch believer in god. He would get complex, world-changing mathematical equations in his fever dreams and credit god for them. On top of that, we have British mathematician GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons), his mentor and collaborator at Cambridge University and the man instrumental in getting Ramanujan’s work out in the world, who is an atheist vocal about his beliefs or lack of it.

It sounds like fertile ground for a dramatic ideological battle. The film has elements of an underdog story: it is about a brown geek with a funny name from colonial India, who mostly irks as well as fascinates the folks at Cambridge. But The Man Who Knew Infinity is not about high-strung drama. It is decent, staid and cold like the interiors of Cambridge on a rainy day; perhaps too staid for its own good.

Dev Patel doesn’t bring much to the table as Ramanujan, as we try to keep looking for something beyond his perpetually troubled expression. He is a man who is frustrated by poverty, away from his wife and mother at home; a Brahmin isn’t allowed to cross the oceans, he iterates. He is a man who is not only aware of his genius but is also arrogant about it. He is also prone to frequent illnesses.

After he lands in England, the Indian mathematician is diagnosed with TB. He recovered partially but died because of it a year later. We register these facts and traits of this personality but their impact is less effective than a Wikipedia page. An important part of the film is Hardy’s relation with Ramanujan, but it has few emotional beats going for it.

Apparently a lot of work was put into getting the math right. The film roped in top mathematicians such as Ken Ono and Manjul Bhargava to ensure that and it took the film about 10 years to make. To its credit, the film makes complex mathematics fairly accessible, even to a non-math person. But what’s the point if one fails to engage with the man behind the math?

Growing up poor in Madras, India, Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar earns admittance to Cambridge University during WWI, where he becomes a pioneer in mathematical theories with the guidance of his professor, G.H. Hardy.

The Man Who Knew Infinity

Director: Matt Brown

Cast: Jeremy Irons, Dev Patel, Toby Jones, Devika Bhise, Arundathi Nag

Genre: Biopic

Runtime: 1 hour 48 min

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2020 9:01:41 PM |

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