The Man Who Knew Infinity: Surprising Lack of Passion in Renowned Mathematician’s Biopic
Based on Robert Kanigel’s 1991 book of the same name, the earnest but somewhat sluggish biopic of Srinavasa Ramanujan, a self-taught mathematical wizard who traveled from India to England to work with esteemed mathematician G.H Hardy in 1914, is a surprisingly distant and uninvolving film.
The story begins in India, with the twenty-something math prodigy Ramanujan (Patel) and his young wife, Janaki (Bhise) – apparently his real-life wife was only ten years old when they got married – working as a shipping clerk for an arrogant boss, Sir Francis Spring (Fry).
His passion for numbers is very clear as we watch the young virtuosi constantly obsessed with scribbling down numbers in a notebook and in chalk on a temple floor, trying to make sense of the information that seems to be flooding through him.
Finally building up the courage to send in his work to Trinity College, Cambridge Professor, G.H Hardy (the always game Mr. Jeremy Irons), Ramanujan’s life soon takes a drastic turn when he receives an invitation to come out to England and prove his theories.
But upon his arrival, Ramanujan is met with a great deal of skepticism and prejudice – tensions heighten as the First World War approaches – with only the bond between him and the seemingly awestruck professor, keeping him in check.
Written and directed by Matt Brown – see Ropewalk – it’s seemingly hard to convey the science and passion of numbers in a way that a movie-going crowd can understand and connect to.
The visual portrayal and understanding of a subject of this kind is usually accompanied by a sub-plot and a story which eventually brings us closer to the protagonist – Matt Damon’s sessions with Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting come to mind. However, The Man Who Knew Infinity, although relatively engaging, never really moves past the facts – which do get a little too confusing to follow at times- and ultimately fail to invite the viewers into its intricate world of numbers.
Despite the story’s flaws, the onscreen pairing of Irons and Patel strikes a positive note within the production, with the Slumdog Millionaire star just about managing to stay afloat whilst Irons is sublime as the socially inept professor who is quick to form a bond with the young wiz.
For a film attempting to highlight the life and work of someone whose importance in the mathematical world still resonates until today; The Man Who Knew Infinity is a disappointing production. An intriguing story with interesting characters, but with very little soul or passion to deliver its point and importance across.