Sunday, May 15, 2016

Movie Review: The Man Who Knew Infinity

2016, 108 minutes, written and directed by Matthew Brown

Accurate trailer? Not really.

I was actually left quite disappointed and flat by this film. It manages to turn fascinating (TRUE) subject matter--one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century is a lowly self educated clerk from Madras, sent to pre World War I Cambridge-- and make it as uninteresting and traiatitious as the Cambridge fellows it predictably demonises.

I am unsure in which sense I am most disappointed--as a film enthusiast or as a mathematician, since it seems that writer and director Matthew Brown does not understand mathematics, and instead sets about making a trope filled fish-out-of-water biopic in which even the camera angles are straight on and uninteresting. Imagine "Eddie the Eagle", but with real talent and none of the snow.

Shall we number the cliches? There is the lonely outsider, the doubting parent (complete with hidden letters; which never happened), the over-bearing but well meaning father-figure who oversteps his boundaries and learns a valuable lesson himself, the patronising imperialist racist, the stuffy aristocrat who refuses to see that enough data?

Worst of all is my personal pet hate--some professor looking at a page of algebra and instantaneously declaring it a work of unparalleled genius. My Coke Zero nearly headed towards the screen.

Ramanujan's single greatest love was mathematics, and the obscure but then-burgeoning field combinatorics, so why is there a sum total of 10 seconds devoted to explaining the mathematics? Why do we never see into the mind of the mathematician at the peak of his autodidactic powers? Why are audiences allowed to leave the theatre without knowing how important Ramanujan's work would be in the computer age, and to later geniuses such as Turing?

Good Will Hunting has already been made, why, oh why would you need to remake it when you have the real thing, and far better actors?

There are so many squandered chances in this film and I hold director Brown responsible. Film direction is a series of choices and Brown's choice to ignore the intellectual, play down the professor-student dynamic, gloss over so many things is baffling to me. The much lower budget 2014  independent Tamil-language "Ramanujan" does a much better job of opening the man's head, possibly because it is Indian, and is rooted in the Indian soul.

Worst yet is the inaccuracies of the film--all sorts of liberties are taken with the truth that simply don't need to be taken: 10 minutes into the film we are informed that an apple tree on Trinity College's Great Court is the very same that produced the apple which landed on Newton's head. There is no apple tree there, the apple did not fall on his head, and it didn't happen in Cambridge.

Why would you do that? Don't they know that we boffins are by tautology pedantic? I'll forgive you for fudging the maths, I'll forgive you for fudging the film--but to fudge both? Inconceivable!

This isn't a bad film, but it is certainly within a standard deviation of the mean average. 5/10

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