” The formulae already exist, we do not invent them. Who am I to question God ?” These were the words of the proclaimed atheist G.H. Hardy (1877-1947) after having experienced working with one of the finest minds ever known. In this classic British bio-pic, the idea of pure math and the concept of infinity make us open our minds to well ~ God.
The story of the Indian math genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) is told mostly through the eyes of George Harold Hardy ( Jeremy Irons). Irons’ facial movements, eyes, and gestures conjure all the characteristics known about G.H. ~ his rigor, his coldness, his depression, his pacificism, his passion for pure math, and his disdain for applied mathematics when used in military operations. Hardy agrees to take on a prodigy having been one himself. We also hear Hardy intone that the unschooled Srinivasa is the most romantic figure in his life and in the history of Madras, India. After viewing “The Man Who Knew Infinity” one can see why.
Dev Patel, of ” Slum Dog Millionaire” fame, displays that same intensity as the Madras prodigy. Never formally educated, Ramanujan dreams numbers. His theorems on infinite series are the basis for the fastest algorithms used by modern computers. Finding one of his notebooks was compared to finding Beethoven’s symphonies.
The British do the best period pieces. Imagery and detail is what good film exalts. Enjoy the ink wells, the majesty of Cambridge, the rituals and ceremonial trappings. Be disgusted with the prejudice, the jealousy and the hyped-academic egos.
Revel in the colors of Southern India: the plums, oranges, fuchsias and marigolds. The animals, the ringed toes and sandals, the temple alcoves and religious ceremonies all take us to another time and place.
Ramanujan does not use an abacus: “It is faster in my head” , he states. He is serious, intense and kind. He speaks respectfully to a fault, ” I beg to introduce myself”. He sees patterns in everything. All he does is imagine. Hardy is severe: he demands that Ramanujan write proofs for all his work. Ramanujan sacrifices his young marriage, his health, and often his dignity in order to publish. No Tamil is spoken. No special treatment is given him, not even a vegetarian dinner choice. Shoes hurt his feet, and bullies bruise his body. Hurt and homesick, he shepherds through, even as WWI begins and bombs fall.
Director Matthew Brown, a South African writer, director and producer, weaves a familiar story. Our prodigy’s wife spends every day missing him, and his jealous mother tries to orchestrate things in India. Ramanujan wanted them to look after each other when he ” was snatched from obscurity”. Six thousand miles away, the professor- friends of Hardy tell him to lighten up and take responsibility for Ramanujan’s welfare. Bertrand Russell criticizes Hardy with ” your damned rigor has broken his vigor.” Hardy softens and even teases Ramanujan, ” you may be reincarnated as a pigeon turd”.
Religion is central to this film, because it is central to Srinivasa Ramanujan’s life. ” An equation has no meaning to me unless it is a proof of God”. The death of Ramanujan’s at 32 is to Hardy ” one of the worst blows, I have ever felt.” The almost obsessive genius of one of the finest minds seen in a lifetime ends with a funereal pyre and an anecdote.
When now mentor Hardy answered with a glib aside that he arrived in cab # 1729~ a rather uninteresting number, Ramanujan without a second’s hesitation said he found the number most interesting, being that the number 1729 was representable in two different ways as a sum of two cubes.
In seeing this film not much will be learned of math or the ” Riemann Hypothesis” , but viewing ” The Man Who Knew Infinity” taught me the name of a mathematical genius I never knew existed.