The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015)

  • Time: 108 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama
  • Director: Matt Brown
  • Cast: Jeremy Irons, Dev Patel, Toby Jones, Malcolm Sinclair


Growing up poor in Madras, India, Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar earns admittance to Cambridge University during WWI, where he becomes a pioneer in mathematical theories with the guidance of his professor, G.H. Hardy.

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  • A pleasant and pleasing if by-the-numbers biopic, The Man Who Knew Infinity spotlights Srinavasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel), an Indian-born mathematical genius who made impressive and long-lasting contributions to mathematical analysis, number theory, infinite series, and continued fractions. That he crafted his formulas without any formal training in pure mathematics was remarkable, that he believed each equation had no meaning “unless it expresses a thought of God,” is something quite extraordinary.

    Writer-director Matthew Brown doesn’t fully shine the light on all the corners of Ramanujan’s life, nor does he exactly exploit all of its dramatic potential. That he possesses an inordinate amount of admiration for his subject is clear, but that near-reverence dulls many of the narrative edges. Ramanujan is introduced as a 25-year-old shipping clerk in his hometown of Madras in 1914. “I was told you love numbers more than people,” his arranged bride Janaki (Devika Bhise) notes. Indeed, Ramanujan lavishes attention on numbers and equations with the ardour of a lover and, with the backing of his supportive supervisor, he sends a letter containing his work to Cambridge academic G.H. Hardy (Jeremy irons).

    Suitably intrigued, Hardy invites him over to Cambridge where the self-taught savant is viewed with curiosity and refined hostility by most of the professors and the student body. Ramanujan doesn’t quite comprehend their cold welcome, even more difficult to adjust to for this intuitive young man is Hardy’s insistence that he work on proofs, which detail every step of his equations with absolute certainty. Hardy believes this is for Ramanujan’s own benefit – he may believe in Ramanujan’s brilliance but “Intuition is not enough, it has to be held accountable,” especially since his colleagues are all too ready to pounce on the slightest misstep from this foreigner.

    The film works best when Brown focuses on the push and pull between Hardy and Ramanujan, who bridles under Hardy’s tutelage and doesn’t how he cannot accept the divine inspiration behind his work. Even Hardy’s progressive peers, particularly Professor Littlewood (Toby Jones) and Bertrand Russell (Jeremy Northam), advise him not to break Ramanujan’s spirit, that he must be allowed to take risks and follow his instincts into uncharted waters. Brown has a facility with presenting mathematics and discussions centering around the subject with ease, but is less equipped to bring a more detailed look at the formation of these numbers that Ramanujan regards as friends. Perhaps he feared more attention would make for dry and ponderous viewing, but A Beautiful Mind, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, and Good Will Hunting proved that heady subjects can be both intellectually accessible and dramatically engaging.

    Brown also falters with Ramanujan’s personal life. As lovely as Bhise is, this narrative thread is wholly unnecessary and adds very little to the film. Brown also shines a brief spotlight on the racism of the time, but more intriguing would have been time further spent on Hardy’s arguably willful blinkering of the hardships plaguing Ramanujan. One of the film’s most powerful moments has a recently beaten Ramanujan confronting Hardy, “Do you not even see the bruises on my face?” Perhaps Hardy chooses not to see, not necessarily because he doesn’t care, but because he cares too much for the man. Hardy cited their collaboration as “the one true romantic incident in my life,” and Irons’ performance convinces one of that sentiment. His reliably fine portrayal also concentrates Patel’s efforts, resulting in the young actor’s best work to date.

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