“Ever heard of Ramanujan?” Goes the line from Good Will Hunting where Stellan Skarsgard tells Robin Williams about a brilliant mathematician who lived one hundred years ago in India and with no formal education changed the world of mathematics. From the story in that one scene a movie has emerged.
The Man Who Knew Infinity is the biopic about the life and work of Srinivasa Ramanujan. It stars Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, and Malcom Sinclair and was written and directed by Matt Brown.
The Man Who Knew Infinity covers the five years Ramanujan spends in Cambridge working with G.H. Hardy trying to prove his mathematical theories. The movie shows many aspects of Ramanujan’s life and work. It shows his work in mathematics, his turbulent relationship with Hardy, his fight for fellowship in Cambridge University, his struggles with culture shock and the racist abuse of the English, the life his wife and mother lead in India while he is away in England, and his illness and eventual death.
It is because of this abundance of storylines that the movie starts to lose focus. Many interesting and entertaining parts of the movie are given one or two scenes and then forgotten. Narayana Iyer acts as a sort of mentor character to Ramanujan in the beginning of the film but is dropped from the film after Ramanujan leaves India. Chandra Magalanobis, who is the only other Indian student that Ramanujan knows at the university isn’t really given any character development, let alone any really interesting to do. The character is used more as a prop than as an actual character.
And it’s not only characters that get lost in the fray, but also ideas that the film introduces. In the beginning we see Ramanujan pray to an idol and scribbling equations on a temple floor and the film introduces us to the concept of knowledge as a divine inspiration and at the end of the film Ramanujan reveals to Hardy that his ideas come from God, but throughout the movie this idea is left behind. The filmmakers do nothing to either challenge or develop the idea and they sort of waste the concept. This is frustrating to watch because many of the ideas that are introduced in this film are abandoned through the runtime of the movie and many of those ideas are interesting enough to warrant some development.
Aside from the story and the characters and the ideas behind the movie, one thing that did work in this movie was the acting. Dev Patel’s performance, specifically, is very well done. Every shot of Patel is so weighted with emotion. You can see everything his character is feeling because it is all right there on his face. Dev Patel’s performance definitely elevates the movie past the jumbled mess it would have been.
So although this movie is quite jumbled in its execution it is still an entertaining watch. I would recommend it just for the fact that it tells the fascinating story of Srinivasa Ramanujan’s life alone.
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