Review by: Beevers
So far, 21st century biopics have been very kind to real-life 20th century scientists and mathematicians. Some of them were fairly well-known before getting the big-screen treatment and some... not so much. 2016 offers up "The Man Who Knew Infinity", a biopic about the most famous genius you probably never heard of. Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan may not have the international renown of Stephen Hawking but "The Man Who Knew Infinity" brings us a story of tenacity, triumph and tragedy in the world of mathematics that deserves its own moment of discovery.
Popular British actor Dev Patel (from "Slumdog Millionaire" and the "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" movies) plays Ramanujan, a young Indian man who fought prejudice and overcame numerous other obstacles in order to bring his particular genius to light. With little formal education and struggling to survive financially in the eastern Indian city of Madras (now, Chennai), he pursues his fascination with numbers by developing mathematical theorems that should've been well beyond the ability of someone from such humble circumstances. The only way for his highly advanced abilities to really develop further and for his discoveries to have meaning and a lasting impact, is to get help from leading mathematicians outside India. Leaving India, however, would violate his strict Hindu beliefs and cause him to leave his young wife, Janaki (Devika Bhise), and his mother (Arundhati Nag), who has no other surviving children. It's a lot to overcome, but Ramanujan's genius must be shared with the world.
A letter from Ramanujan to British mathematician G. H. Hardy (Oscar winner Jeremy Irons) impresses Hardy so much, he invites Ramanujan to join him at Cambridge University's Trinity College. With help from his friend and colleague, John Littlewood (Toby Jones), Hardy works to fill in the gaps in the young Ramanujan's education so the men can maximize what they can accomplish together. Ramanujan chafes under Hardy's rigid approach to developing his abilities, but the two eventually reach a happy medium between Hardy's insistence on "academic rigor" and Ramanujan's need to follow his intuition as far and fast as he can. The protracted fight that was World War I further complicates Hardy and Ramanujan's working relationship, as do religious differences between them, poor treatment of Ramanujan by some at Trinity, his long-term separation from his wife and mother and Ramanujan's own health problems.
"The Man Who Knew Infinity" makes its difficult subject matter relatable and entertaining, while enlightening and educating its audience. I, for one, had no idea that the modern world of mathematics was so intricate and deep. The script by Matthew Brown (based on Robert Kanigel's book of the same name) gives us just enough of the math (and simply enough) that we understand the uniqueness of Ramanujan's gifts and the importance of his work, but rightly concentrates on the more personal stories of the individuals who were involved in this real-life drama. The challenges of Ramanujan's interpersonal relationships in Cambridge are interspersed with scenes between his wife and mother back in India, reminding us of the sacrifices made by Ramanujan and others so that he could make a difference. Brown also directs and does a good job at making this little-known story accessible and interesting and he is helped by excellent performances from his entire cast, especially Irons and Patel.
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