Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Man Who Knew Infinity [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars)  RogerEbert.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
FilmiBeat listing

ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RogerEbert.com (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (K. Rive) review

Hindustan Times (G. Bhaskaran) review
Times of India (TNN) review

The Guardian (P. Bradshaw) review
The Telegraph (T. Robey) review

The Man Who Knew Infinity [2015] [FiBt] (screenplay and directed by Matthew Brown based on the biography [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Robert Kanigel [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb] of Indian-born mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan [wikip] [IMDb]) is an high quality / excellent biopic about a person, non-white..., that most of us should perhaps know more about, but ... probably don't, or at least not yet.

Srinivasa Ramanujan [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film by Dev Patel) was born in the 1887 near Madras, today Chennai in Tamil Nadu, India to a Brahmin (upper caste) family of Tamil origin.  As such, young S. Ramanujan was from a caste that both valued and had access to education, even if, still under British Colonial rule, the facilities available to young Indians of his time were limited.

So ... young S. Ramunajan did not necessarily have the _formal_ mathematical education that he would have had, if he had been born at the time in England.  Still ... he found himself fascinated by the abstract beauty of mathematics and became very, very good at it.

Early in the film, he explained to his wife Janaki (played by Devika Bhise) that he saw in Nature all around him "colors (mathematical patterns) that one can not see." Later to incredulous, famously atheistic "you can only trust that which you can verify (prove)" British professors of Cambridge University of the early 1900s, he declared every mathematical theorem that he discovered (OFTEN ENOUGH THROUGH THE MEDITATIVE PRACTICES OF HIS HINDU FAITH / UPBRINGING) "a thought of God" ;-).

He was thus -- to Western Eyes -- an unexpected genius, and fairly early on in his career as "a clerk by day" and "mathematician by night" he was encouraged by his Indian mentors / colleagues to send some of his work from Madras, India to England, eventually landing on the desk of G.H. Hardy [wikip] [IMDb] (played in the film by Jeremy Irons) of Trinity College, Cambridge who while lamenting the S. Ramanajan's "lack of vigor" (Ramanajan would conflate 5, 10 steps of a proof into one) appreciated the beauty even audacity of his results.

Thus eventually S. Ramanajan was invited by G.H. Hardy to Cambridge to work with him and a fairly interesting / honestly-portrayed friendship (of sorts) / collaboration (again, of sorts) proceeded from there.  This was, after all, a gradual "meeting of minds" and, indeed, a "meeting of cultures" one that IMHO we're still not even close to completing.

Throughout the story, G.H. Hardy is repeatedly confronted by the twin realities that S. Ramanajan is both BRILLIANT and VERY DIFFERENT than he is and that S. Ramanajan had very different (and often VERY PRACTICAL) problems than he had: (1) S. Ramanajan was a VEGETARIAN.  A good part of the story plays out during World War I (during a time of quite severe rationing in England).  The logic of Britain's war-time rationing simply did not take into account the needs of some like him.  (2) S. Ramanajan didn't just "drop out of the sky" when he arrived in Cambridge.  HE HAD A FAMILY (wife and mother) "back home" in Madras, India.  In contrast, G.H. Hardy, a quite typical "Western Intellectual" of his time, was "married to his work" and hence had NO ONE really to worry about (or even _care about_ ...) "back home." So S. Ramanajan's quite practical and very _human_ needs were often incomprehensible to Hardy.

All this reminded me quite well of a still quite recent Provincial Chapter that we had in my Order (the Servants of Mary) in which one of our South African (Zulu) Servite Friars (my Province, the USA Province of the Servite Order is responsible for Servite Missions in Kwa-Zulu, South Africa) noted that when it comes to "cultural adaptation" it seems always to be easier for those coming from the poorer countries to "adapt" to the ways / customs, etc of the wealthier ones than the other way around ;-).

And so it was here ... S. Ramanajan was being asked repeatedly, even by fairly sympathetic people (including G.H. Hargy) "to adapt" to the ways of the British.  And yet, he had things to offer, and not even just "his mathematical genius," to his British patrons / (sort of) colleagues.

It all makes for a great story ... and one that continues to unfold today.  One hopes that we are a few chapters further into the story of "the meeting of cultures / civilizations" but it's still an ungoing process.  Excellent film!


As "quite excellent" as the current film is, to anyone truly interested in movies today, it is obvious that India (with a larger film industry than even Hollywood's) is more than capable of telling its own story.  As such, in much the spirit of last year, when I did a "Film Tour of Russia" (so that Readers here would get exposed to _more_ than just "ponderous" and _extremely boring/depressing_ Russian / or even still Soviet-era "epics"),  I'm going to do a "Film Tour of India" this year as well, focusing on the INDIAN FILMS that "made it" both _critically_ and _popularly_ IN INDIA in the past year.  I hope to do both such contemporary film tours (of India and Russia) annually from now on ;-)

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