Film Review: The Man Who Knew of Infinity
A review of Dev Patel's biopic of the brilliant Srinivasa Ramanujan
Director: Matthew Brown Starring: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Toby Jones, and Devika Bhise Run Time: approximately 108 mins
Mark Twain once said “truth is stranger than fiction,” and so it is with the life of Mr. Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920). Mr. Ramanujan, was a largely self-taught mathematician from Madras who at the age of 31, in an era without calculators and computers, became one of the youngest Fellows in the history of the Royal Society and became the first Indian elected as a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.
In his lifetime Ramanujan compiled nearly 3,900 mathematical formulas / equations, as well as discovered the Ramanujan prime and the Ramanujan theta function. His work inspired the creation of the Ramanujan Journal, which publishes work in all area of mathematics influenced by his work. To this very day, mathematicians and scientists use his work to understand concepts as complex as black holes. In fact you might recognize Ramanujan’s name from the film “Good Will Hunting” as Will Hunting’s genius is compared to Ramanujan in the film by the character Professor Gerard Lambeau in a conversation with Robin Williams’ Sean Maguire.
And so the makers of the film “The Man Who Knew Infinity” were challenged with the prospect of capturing the story of this larger than life individual in just 108 minutes. Here is my review of their endeavor starring Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons as Ramanujan’s mentor G.H. Hardy.
Dev Patel’s evolution as an actor has been a joy to witness. With “the Newsroom,” and now “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” Patel has honed his dramatic acting chops, and brings great depth as well as emotion to the lead role of this film. Jeremy Irons as Hardy, provides a foil of experience and logic to Patel’s emotional, passionate, yet naïve Ramanujan.
I applaud the film for not going the way of “Argo” and “A Beautiful Mind,” which largely fabricated their primary plot points for the audience’s benefit. With “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” Matthew Brown largely tells Ramanujan’s story in the realm of the real world without much embellishment.
Toby Jones (you may know him from the Marvel films as Zola) is wonderful as Littlefield (Hardy’s colleague) who aids in guiding Ramanujan’s genius. Devika Bhise is memorable as Ramanujan’s wife, as well. While this film is really a two-man play, the supporting cast does a wonderful job in holding up their end of the story.
The Not So Good
The film is a very slow paced in the same way that “Gandhi” and films like “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” are slow paced. To truly enjoy this film, you must be one who enjoys the slice of reality style of storytelling along with the extraordinary life of the real Srinivasa Ramanujan without an expectation of the ebbs and flows of a traditional Hollywood story arc. As a result, I think this film will be appreciated by the audience that fits this description, but not so much by the movie going audience at large. In my opinion this film will not be the universal success that “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Hundred Foot Journey,” or “A Beautiful Mind” were.
The Man Who Knew Infinity faces a unique challenge of telling the tale of an extraordinary life in only 108 minutes without the usual fluff that would be packaged into such a story to make it more marketable. It addresses a wide array of concepts including: passion vs form, proof of knowledge vs. divine inspiration, racial intolerance vs. an intellect that transcends humanity, and so on and so forth. Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, and the entire team behind “The Man Who Knew Infinity” bring depth, emotion, and integrity to their telling of the story of Srinivasa Ramanujan and I dare anyone to watch the film without having an immediate urge to google more information about this extraordinary man.
Overall I rate the film a 7 out of 10.If you like stories in the vein of “Good Will Hunting,”“Dead Poets Society,”“Gandhi,”“A Beautiful Mind,” “The Theory of Everything,” and “The Imitation Game,” you will enjoy this film. Just be prepared for a slow burn grounded in reality, rather than a fast paced dramatic tale embellished with Hollywood magic.
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