From the Archives: The Man Who Knew Infinity review

From the Archives: The Man Who Knew Infinity review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Outside of the films of James Gray we rarely get a drama without overt theatrics or narrative shock value, and while The Man Who Knew Infinity lacks the visual warmth of something like The Immigrant, it delivers on the same dramatic genuineness. By applying restraint where so many filmmakers would be tempted to go for big character moments and broiling melodrama, writer/director Matt Brown delivers a solid, entertaining biopic that has been doomed to sharing an opening weekend with the year’s biggest blockbuster (I’m referring, of course, to The Meddler). The always reliable Dev Patel plays Srinivasa Ramanujan, a self-taught mathematician who, in the the years immediately prior to WWI, left his traditional Indian town to study at Cambridge University. His Indian heritage, mixed with his lack of formal education causes the stuffy elite to doubt his brilliant mathematical mind. With the help of respected University mathematician/curmudgeon, G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons, on point), Ramanujan works to bring form to his divinely-inspired theorems. Meanwhile, the hierarchy of Cambridge struggles to accept not just the changes brought to their landscape by a burgeoning war, but also those brought on by a brilliant young man who has little in common with the status quo.


Both Patel and Irons resist the urge to milk the material into awards-bait, and in doing so, portray a relationship that rings true. Ramanujan is a man of faith. He constructs mathematics the way Hendrix plays a guitar – pure feeling. Conversely, Hardy takes a more prog-rock approach, carefully arranging his numbers as the rules of mathematics should dictate, formulating undeniable proofs. Together, they are capable of groundbreaking mathematical work (seriously, imagine if Hendrix lived long enough to play with Yes), regardless of their fundamentally opposites approaches to their field. Patel uses his natural gift toward providing his characters with hope and grace, giving weight to Ramanujan’s claims that his theorems are a gift from God, while Irons dances between moments of tough love and of tenderness, giving Hardy a depth that many actors could not have pulled from the page.


Speaking of the script, perhaps the most stunning aspect of this film is the way the mathematics are handled. Had it gone into bookish number-speak, audiences would certainly check out, yet had it dumbed everything down to the point where characters are spouting vague jargon, it would be insulting. Brown finds a comfortable middle ground that manages not to leave the mathematically challenged (see: me) in the dust, while maintaining a proper level of intellect. This is important. Had we no understanding of how important Ramanujan’s work was, the movie would fail to make a case for existing.

And therein lies the most interesting aspect of The Man Who Knew Infinity: most outsiders to the world of higher mathematics have never even heard of Srinivasa Ramanujan, yet we all benefit daily from his numerical gymnastics. It’s a shame that this film will surely be lost amongst our first wave of summer blockbusters, because it’s a story that really should be told – taught in school even. Yet it wouldn’t be at home in the Autumnal prestige harvest either, due mostly to the aforementioned lack of flair.

Some will call it bland, most won’t even hear about it, but The Man Who Knew Infinity is a delightful film of a breed that we so rarely see. I hope it finds an audience.

The Man Who Knew Infinity opens in Philly theaters today.

Official site  .

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