Review: By Christine Thompson
THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY is an historic drama based on the life of genius Hindu mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan during the start of World War I. In spite of the importance of Ramanujan’s work, filming this subject requires some finesse due to the popular notion that mathematics is a dry and passionless endeavor.
Instead, writer/director Matthew Brown succeeds in showing the opposite is true, with Dev Patel as the shy and poor Ramanujan and Jeremy Irons as his English patron G.H. Hardy. Hardy, at once fascinated by Ramanujan and puzzled at the enigma of an uneducated Indian who seemingly plucks formulas from thin air, brings Ramanujan to Trinity College in England and sets about the task of directing Ramanujan to work through his amazing formulas and theorems. He wants Ramanujan to validate his work by showing the logical steps that show how he arrived at his conclusions.
The ensuing relationship that develops between the two is brilliantly portrayed, as Hardy, perhaps his biggest supporter, is also the hardest on the young man. Hardy’s harsh approach is mitigated by his colleague John Littlewood (Toby Jones), as together they seek to ensure that Ramanujan completes the validation process.
Unfortunately, as is often the case with native genius, Ramanujan is not entirely aware of where his theorems are coming from. Ramanujan tells an exasperated Hardy, an avowed atheist, that he receives his mathematical theorems and formulas from the Goddess Namajiri. He doesn’t know how he knows, he just does. To cap it off, Ramanujan explains to Hardy that “you really do believe in God, you just doesn’t think He likes you very much.”
Patel portrays a poor young man who’s desire to be published takes precedence over his home, his wife, and eventually even himself as he faces the prejudice, language barriers, and cultural differences of War Time England. Set upon by thugs, threatened by other Trinity College Fellows, dislike of the strange British food (he’s a vegetarian), loneliness for his own culture, and serious illness do not deter him from his path.
The film is a fascinating portrayal of a human struggle between cultures, understanding, and prejudice. Ultimately, the footnote at the end of the movie about Ramanujan’s theories being applied to the study of black holes, (but failing to mention string theory, quantum gravity and recent innovations in computer security) a century later touches only a little bit on the true importance of the work of a great man.