Monday, May 23, 2016


Rated: PG-13

STARS: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Devika Bhise
DIRECTOR: Mathew Brown
GENRE: Biopic/Drama/Art House

The language of higher mathematics can be intimidating to anyone who looks at it and sees gobbledygook, which would be most of us, and that could be the first thing that might put you off of checking out The Man Who Knew Infinity. But don't allow a few equations that fill up entire blackboards and then start reaching around the block discourage you.  (Though attempting to "prove" a theory in this abstract and seemingly endless manner can appear, at least on the surface, to be unrelated to anything that has to do with life in the real world--a highly advanced form of mental masturbation as it were--but what do I know? Though I can point to numerous theories through the ages that were generally regarded as "proven" that were later shown to be false. Imagine filling up journal upon journal with these equations--shouting EUREKA!-- and then some smart-ass comes along and says, oh, but you forgot...) Fortunately, there are no attempts to explain any of that esoteric stuff to the lay person here, as mathematics is really secondary to what The Man Who Knew Infinity is about.

In 1913, Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel), a humble accountant and self-taught mathematical genius from India, travels to Trinity College in Cambridge to meet and study with the brilliant G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons), the man who would become his mentor. Ramanujan has put everything on the line--leaving his beautiful wife and his mother behind to fulfill his vision of getting his theories published.

Ramanujan, today, is regarded as one of the most influential minds in the field of mathematics. But his journey to that revered status was not an easy one. He met resistance at every turn from the establishment of old fart British profs--entrenched in their positions and their thinking. When a brilliant mind meets another brilliant mind and recognizes that this other brilliant mind might just be more brilliant than itself, the result is professional jealousy of mathematical proportions!  Not to mention being upstaged by a young brown-skinned upstart from "the colonies" in an era when racism was just the accepted order of things. Ramanujan must not only fight against bigotry and closed minds, but the anguish he feels from being away from his family. He is fortunate to have a champion (Hardy) in his corner.

The Man Who Knew Infinity is the proverbial root-for-the-underdog tale of struggle and redemption. Jeremy Irons seems made for his role as the eccentric professor Hardy. Dev Patel is on familiar ground once again as a somewhat bewildered soul pitted against the odds--see Slumdog Millionaire and Life Of Pi. It's a pleasant enough way to kill a couple hours (actually 1 hour and 48 minutes), but there is no new ground being broken here. Except in mathematics, of course.

Grade: B


Lord knows, I tried to follow this tale of endless equations and English academe. But The Man Who Knew Infinity was no Goodbye, Mister Chips. (Both versions.) Jeremy Iron's character is the epitome of an introverted intellectual who can barely look anyone in the eye. So it's difficult to relate to, or even like this inwardly-centered man. As for his Indian prodigy? Ramanujan's mathematical brilliance is also hard for the average viewer to understand or get excited about. Hence, I found myself in the unenviable position of nodding off occasionally, praying I didn't drool on myself or someone else!

That being said, when I did manage to stay awake and follow the trials and tribulations of Srinivasa Ramanujan, the film held my interest. Sort of. As with so many movies these days, The Man Who Knew Infinity was based on a real person. If that real person's life is steeped in drama, the result is usually a good movie. But so much of this film had to do with coming up with proofs to back up equations. And there's not a whole lot of drama in that....

There was a bit of drama back home in India when his mama hid her son's letters from his wife, convinced that if she showed them to her (and she joined him in England), he would never return home. Naturally his wife assumed he had forgotten her. It was such a minor plot but one that, thankfully, woke me up for two seconds.

Grade: D