The Man Who Knew Infinity: A glowing tribute

Mathematics is the only universal language which transcends race, religion, culture and class.

Friday, 8th April 2016, 8:00 pm
Still from The Man Who Knew Infinity

Breathtaking in its simplicity and application, the study of number, quantity and space impacts every facet of our lives, from GPS systems and the functionality of computers, to our ability to predict the weather.

Adapted from Robert Kanigel's 1991 biography, The Man Who Knew Infinity is a handsome dramatisation of the life of a self-taught Indian mathematician, who came to England just before the First World War to share his passion for numbers.

It's a glowing tribute, written and directed by Matthew Brown, which extols its remarkable subject, Srinivasa Ramanujan, as a beautiful mind, who conjured solutions out of the ether.

Still from The Man Who Knew Infinity

Sadly, Brown's film fails to make clear exactly what these secrets were and how the lead character was instrumental in ploughing new cerebral furrows.

Only once, on the subject of partitions, does the script invest time in illuminating the daunting challenge in layman's terms, so we can share in Ramanujan's frustrations and triumph as he wrestles with "a rabbit hole mystery of the universe".

Ramanujan (Dev Patel) is a 25-year-old shipping clerk in 1914 Madras, who dreams about formulae, which he scribbles in chalk on temple floors.

With the blessing of his employer, Sir Francis Spring (Stephen Fry), Ramanujan sends some of his mathematical musings to revered academic GH Hardy (Jeremy Irons), who is a fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge alongside Bertrand Russell (Jeremy Northam).

Still from The Man Who Knew Infinity

Hardy invites the bank clerk to England to nurture his gift.

Against the wishes of his controlling mother (Arundhati Nag), Ramanujan bids tearful farewell to his new wife (Devika Bhise) and travels by sea to the hallowed seat of learning.

In rarefied surroundings, Ramanujan encounters jealousy from students and masters, including Professor Howard (Anthony Calf) and Major McMahon (Kevin McNally).

Thankfully, a few scholars, such as John Edensor Littlewood (Toby Jones), recognise Ramanujan's raw talent and encourage the Indian to indulge his fascination with prime numbers.

Still from The Man Who Knew Infinity

"Don't be intimidated," beams Littlewood. "The greatest knowledge often comes from the humblest of origins."

Working closely with Hardy, Ramanujan makes a series of breakthroughs and challenges the Englishman's long-held atheism.

"I don't believe in anything I can't prove," concedes Hardy.

"Then you can't believe in me," replies Ramanujan sadly.

Still from The Man Who Knew Infinity

The Man Who Knew Infinity was shot on location at Trinity College and the film savours the rich history and architecture as a backdrop to Ramanujan's journey of self-discovery.

Patel and Irons are a pleasing double act - youthful exuberance colliding with stuffy stiff-upper-lipped restraint - culminating in genuinely touching scenes between the two men.

However, by the poignant end credits, we're no closer to fully understanding Ramanujan's invaluable contribution to a world of rigorous theorems and proofs.

If an equation exists, which describes the perfect biographical drama, it eludes the filmmakers.