Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Man Who Knew Infinity - 3 Stars

I just enjoyed "The Man Who Knew Infinity," the new film about Indian prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan, the real-life mathematical prophet who delivered so many very important and difficult mathematical identities around the time of the first World War.
In the film's lead role is Dev Patel, the talented young Londoner who you will remember from "Slumdog Millionaire," and "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" movies, as well as the UK version of "Skins." Patel delivers a fine performance, and he is much assisted by Jeremy Irons, who is cast as Ramanujan's Cambridge colleague, G.H. Hardy.
I would've preferred the film to be less about the tension between the two lead characters, and more about Ramanujan himself- his life and times. I was hoping to learn more about Ramanujan's upbringing and what motivated him to pursue mathematics with such incredible focus. However, it's quite possible that there really isn't much of a record, simply because he arose so quickly from complete obscurity. "The Imitation Game" writers would probably want to imply Ramanujan was somewhere on the spectrum. Maybe it's best that this film actually sticks to the facts!
And the facts are these: Ramanujan had an incredible mathematical gift, and his work continues to astound any who understand it. Those familiar with Indian mathematics will know that there have been many amazing prodigies; yet Ramanujan is truly beyond comparison...*any* comparison. He was so good that when you really delve into his work, it feels like a very clever hoax. Can he possibly be *that* good?! Therein lies this film's big challenge: it'd very difficult for audiences to grasp the magnitude of Ramanujan's contributions. And so any non-mathy audience members are supposed to sense that genius, somewhat vicariously, via the other math whizzes who encounter Ramanujan in the film. And so the film has a *very* difficult challenge, and unlike "Imitation Game," there aren't gimmicks that can be deployed e.g. defeating a Nazi machine. Ramanujan simply did incomparably exceptional work in mathematics, with no real goal in mind other than imparting his findings to others before he passed. 
(Note: Ramanujan suffered from all manner of maladies throughout his short life and probably knew that he'd be gone soon. The movie doesn't inform us quite enough on that point, I feel.)
"The Man Who Knew Infinity" doesn't pack all the star power and made-for-Hollywood character eccentricities and narrative gimmickry of "The Imitation Game." This film doesn't have the same broad-audience appeal ...and really isn't even aiming for that. However, it is very nice to see Ramanujan's story finally being told with good care. Ramanujan was the kind of person who only becomes more and more amazing, the more you know.
Good film; very well cast and filmed. I would've really enjoyed another ten minutes on his earlier life, and that might have helped the whole film feel more personal
I'd give it three stars out of five.