Monday, May 16, 2016


Now playing at an indie art house near me:

(Dir. Matthew Brown, 2015)

In due time, every notable genius will get their own biopic. It’s Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan’s turn in Matthew Brown’s sophomore effort, THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY, his follow-up to Brown's little seen (meaning I didn’t see it) 2000 rom com ROPEWALK.

Dev Patel, the British actor of Indian descent that you probably know from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE or those BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL movies or the HBO show The Newsroom, stars as Ramanujan who the film’s other principal lead, Jeremy Irons as Professor G.H. Hardy, tells us in an opening voice-over was “the most romantic figure in the recent history of mathematics.”

Brown’s film, which is adapted from Robert Kanigel’s 1991 biography “The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan,” concentrates on Ramanujan’s time studying and working on his complex theories at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1914-1919.

Ramanujan leaves behind his loving wife (Devika Bhise), and mother (Arundathi Nag) who says that “it is forbidden to cross the seas,” in poverty-stricken Madras, India to pursue his dreams of getting his groundbreaking work published, but there he has to contend with a panel of stuffy Brit academics that are skeptical about this uneducated upstart, labeling him “Gunga Din,” and demanding that he provide painstaking proofs of his equations.

In a neat and tidy movie moment, Irons’ Hardy tells his doubting Cambridge collegues, who include Toby Jones as John Edensor Littlewood, Stephen Fry as Sir Francis Spring, and Jeremy Northam as Bertrand Russell, that Ramanujan is a special case and that “change is a wonderful thing – embrace it.”

All the while filling notebooks with his elaborate formulas, Ramanujan cooks his own meals in his room, deals with discrimination, and even some physical abuse by soldiers. The Indian math genius’ biggest battle is with tuberculosis

The movie is best when it focuses on Ramanujan’s relationship with his mentor Hardy, as the acclaimed mathematician is a devout atheist whose student proclaims “an equation has no meaning to me unless it expresses a thought of god.” Irons and Patel excel at their exchanges, exuding both warmth and gravitas.

However, Brown’s screenplay is often repetitive with dialogue that reiterates variations on the same lines from scene to scene. For example, when at one point Hardy warns Ramanujan that one of his most vocal opponents at the University, Major MacMahon (Kevin McNally), thinks that an equation involving partitions can’t be done – especially by Ramanujan, we then cut to a scene in which MacMahon angrily asserts “you think you can just turn around and crack partitions? Can’t be done, I’m telling you – especially by you!” By this point we’ve had three scenes that say the exact same thing over and over.

THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY is TV movie-ish with swelling strings (courtesy of composer Coby Brown) and overly precious speeches, but it’s an earnest, noble tribute to a man that many feel should be spoken of in the same breath as Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking (that wheel chair guy).

Brown doesn’t attempt to get inside Ramanujan’s head in a BEAUTIFUL MIND manner so there’s no flashiness to the proceedings, just the simple, straight forward formula of a journey to respect. Moviegoers may not be as in awe of it as the folks in the film are of seeing Ramanujan’s equations on paper and chalkboards – there’s a whole lot of gaping at his work here – but they’ll most likely be plenty entertained by it nonetheless.

More later...

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