The Man Who Knew Infinity

The Man Who Knew Infinity stars Dev Patel as Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar, and Jeremy Irons as G.H. Hardy, mathematicians who worked together in England.

Ramanujan was a self-taught mathematician, blessed with a divine mastery of mathematics despite never having received much formal education in the subject.  His mind operated in a way where it was not necessary for him to show how he arrived at his theories, or as they say in math class, “show his work.”  The theories simply worked.  He tirelessly sought to have his mathematical theories recognized in the hopes of one day having them published.  Until he reached outside of India to Cambridge University’s G.H. Hardy, no one took him seriously or gave his work proper consideration.  Ramanujan was to become Hardy’s protégé, with Hardy teaching Ramanujan how to proof or prove his theories, but in many ways Ramanujan’s skills surpassed Hardy’s, and Hardy winds up learning equally valuable life-lessons from his student.

If I were to go into the plot of this movie in-depth, you might find it utterly boring.  Another movie about someone with a brilliant mind, blah, blah, blah.  But this movie was different in the sense that the main character came from humble beginnings in India, was a self-taught genius who was frowned upon and discounted because of his lack of formal education, and believed not only greatly in science, but also and perhaps equally greatly in God.  It is centered around math and uses much mathematical language, which is about as exciting to me as watching paint dry.  You may feel differently.  The beauty of the movie can be found in the subtext, which is what made the movie interesting and worth seeing.

A large part of this film is about the concrete world where we can see, feel and provide proof of in life’s occurrences; science, math, logic, etc. – vs. “spiritual” occurrences, which defy logic and must be accepted on the basis of simply being so; such as God, blessings, gifts and miracles.  There are many who emphatically believe we have to choose to believe wholly in one or the other.  This film challenges the idea that these two schools of thought need not be mutually exclusive; meaning, there can be a point where the concrete and the spiritual intersect and coexist.

We live in a society where everyone wants to know what makes one qualified to speak in a certain way on a certain subject and requires research supported statistics, man-made degrees, certifications and/or other accolades to feel as though one even knows what they are talking about.  I found this movie especially timely and a necessary reminder that not all greatness or mastery is learned in a school or taught by man.  Natural, some would say God-given, talents do exist; their origins beyond our understanding.  But just because we do not understand them, does not make them any less real or true.

The other important theme of this movie involves change and includes many types of change (personal, interpersonal, societal, institutional, national, etc.), and the range of human responses to change.

When change is occurring or, as some might say, when destiny knocks, one can either dig in their heels and be dragged through it kicking and screaming in protest or one can accept it.  One can actively plot to derail change, but it will not work.  Because if things are “meant to be” there is nothing to be done about it.  Eventually the change that is meant to happen will come about.  Sometimes it takes numerous, tireless attempts to attain the change you seek and sometimes the change seeks you and it seems to happen instantly.  Every single character in this movie went through changes and how each character dealt with those changes is what made this movie dynamic.

Despite its formulaic set up (I mean, how else can you set up a biopic about an unknown? – Introduction, younger life, hit the highlights of life events and relationships, the big shift, the breakthrough, the decline and/or the end), this movie is worth seeing.  Dev Patel gives a solid performance as usual and Jeremy Irons is simply an effortless veteran at this point in his career.

As with any biographical picture about an “unknown” the importance of how closely the actor resembles the subject and captures another person’s mannerisms becomes irrelevant.  The burden of an audience to recognize the character physically and spiritually is removed; leaving room for a great performance to take place with no expectations.  This is what can happen when we dig deeper into history to find interestingly uncommon, rarely told, not widely-known stories and subjects.  It was refreshing to go to a movie and learn something new about someone I had no idea existed.

My blog is still quite new, so I have yet to find a suitable rating system, so I will say this.  I give this movie 8 out of 10 bloops, (whatever they will be or look like is still to be determined, but I am working on it), as it is a movie that made me think, I would watch it again, I wanted to learn more about Ramanujan, it was well thought out and it contained the two strong themes mentioned above.  In other words, I think you would enjoy it, if this type of movie is your “cup of tea.”

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