The Man Who Knew Infinity
Direction: Matt Brown
Actors: Jeremy Irons, Dev Patel
Thank heavens for Jeremy Irons. It is the Oscar-winning actor’s (Reversal of Fortune, 1990) dynamic characterisation of the celebrated Cambridge scholar GH Hardy that sets The Man Who Knew Infinity apart from other recent by-the-numbers biopics.
A prestige production in the James Ivory-Ismail Merchant mould, the film chronicles the true story of Srinivasa Ramanujan, the Madras-born mathematician whose unparalleled flair for numbers was honed during his time at the hallowed Trinity College back in the 1910s.
Without any formal training but with an intuitive aptitude for equations and theorems, the Indian math prodigy (Patel, fairly affecting) was encouraged by the English academic (Irons) to come up with proofs to back up his formulae.
Tragically, Ramanujan died of tuberculosis at the age of 32, barely a year after his return to India.
Matt Brown’s workmanlike direction ties things up neatly but fails to elicit enough empathy for the central characters of the young number-cruncher and his tutor-cum-collaborator.
Watch the trailer here
There are several awkward transitions to Ramanujan’s native dwelling place where his mother (Arundathi Nag) and young bride (Devika Bhise) appear to have agreed upon a tenuous truce.
Concurrently, the Great War erupts in Europe. Scenes showing British soldiers writhing in tents are perfunctory. Ramanujan has to also contend with racial discrimination from members of the university’s governing body as well as misguided youngsters enlisted in the army.
The whiny wall-to-wall background music score is a major deterrent. The film’s epigraph, “Mathematics rightly viewed possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty”, derives from Ramanujan’s contemporary in the groves of academe, Bertrand Russell (Jeremy Northam, suitably stiff-upper-lip).
Anchored by Jeremy Irons’s riveting performance (note especially the two stirring speeches to fellow faculty members just before and after his protégé’s death), The Man Who Knew Infinity is an overly earnest portrait of a groundbreaking mathematical genius.