The Man Who Knew Infinity

Film Reviews

A review by Ghoshen: “…it is a jolly fine film!”

The Man Who Knew InfinityI remember Osho’s once saying something to the effect that, if you are thirsty for knowledge and want to study something just for its own sake, then choose mathematics. This is my main excuse for reviewing a movie about a mathematician here in the Osho News. This is apart from my main reason for doing so which is simply that it is a jolly fine film!

The cinema of the last couple of years has brought us biopics of several champions in the fields of science and mathematics, most notably Stephen Hawking (“The Theory of Everything”) and Alan Turing (“The Imitation Game”). A film that has gathered rather less attention is “The Man Who Knew Infinity” about Srinivasa Ramanujan who was probably the greatest mathematical prodigy of all time. Born in India in 1887, Ramanujan was mostly self-taught and discovered or independently rediscovered many theorems and formulae in pure maths so advanced that only a few people in the world could adequately assess their accuracy and value. In his early adult years Ramanujan gained some recognition in Indian mathematical circles and in 1913, when he was 26, he started to make contact with mathematicians in Britain, then much the centre of the mathematical world. In particular he came to the attention of G.H. Hardy, a renowned professor at Trinity College, Cambridge. Hardy persuaded Ramanujan (with some difficulty) to journey to England and work with him, and the film focuses mainly on the five years they spent together. It is a dramatic story not only because of Ramanujan’s humble origins and his stunning genius but also because of the relationship between him and Hardy which was both deeply affectionate and wildly contentious. Contentious because Ramanujan was intuitive, visionary, perhaps overly self-confident and deeply religious (as a Hindu Brahmin) while Hardy was stubbornly rigorous (in maths at least; otherwise he was delightfully eccentric) and a committed atheist.

Dev Patel (from “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) does a good job of playing Ramanujan while Jeremy Irons, one of this reviewer’s favourite actors, gives a captivating and award-worthy portrayal of Hardy. The script clearly departs slightly from history and contains some dialogue that sounds a little too modern, but, as best I can determine, it nevertheless serves the characters and life at Cambridge in its era very well. The film leaves one very glad that someone saw Ramanujan’s potential (while pointing out that others were blinkered to it) and helped him to flower and achieve the prominence he so greatly merited. I was happy to see that the scriptwriter cum director, Matthew Brown, did not shy away from including some real mathematical content and even explaining one area in which Ramanujan excelled, partitions, in a way any lay person can understand.

Ramanujan credited his mathematical capacities to divinity: ‘”An equation for me has no meaning,” he once said, and this is quoted in the film, “unless it expresses a thought of God.” And it is fascinating to see how Ramanujan attributed his discoveries to revelations given by the Hindu deity whom he worshipped and to wonder how these flashes of apparently superhuman knowledge actually came to him.

I was a whiz at maths at secondary school but, once I got to university, I began to find it difficult. I could never have succeeded as a professional mathematician but I retain an affection for the subject. And Osho’s remark about maths has inspired me to renew my studies of the subject as part of my regime for keeping my mind active and keen in my older years. Should you be similarly inspired, I suggest that you start with Number Theory, an area to which Ramanujan contributed a lot.

GhoshenGhoshen is a regular contributor to this magazine

More reviews and articles by this author on Osho News


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