This week saw the release of The Man Who Knew Infinity, the latest film joining the ever-growing string of movies that follow the trials and tribulations of periodical figures and individuals who battle with social problems of racism and discrimination. The film is centred around the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan, a mathematician who grew up poor in the city of Madras in India before gaining admittance to study in the prestigious Cambridge University in England, shortly before the First World War erupts. Throughout the film, Ramanujan deals with the difficulties of acceptance by his peers, struggles with maintaining a long distance marriage and the daunting task of having to work out the mathematical proofs to all the various theories he has discovered.
Dev Patel (famous for his role in the critically acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire) takes the leading role in depicting the conflicted Ramanujan, but the rest of the cast also deserve substantial praise. Toby Jones, Jeremy Northam and Stephen Fry all portray the various nuances and strands of British ideology at this time excellently – from Fry’s disapproval and skepticism of Ramanujan’s talents, to Northam’s portrayal of Bertrand Russell and his modern philosophical ideas. However, Jeremy Irons truly takes the helm in this movie. Irons plays mathematician G.H. Hardy, and effectively captures the development in his growing friendship with Ramanujan. Irons brings this bold and resolute style of charisma to his character as he tries to bring out the potential in his student. While many periodical British films tend to be spearheaded by one popular or acclaimed actor, it is refreshing to see that in The Man Who Knew Infinity, the whole cast work harmoniously and serve to support each other effectively.
However, the film approaches the issue of racism rather half-heartedly. It seems that director Matthew Brown favoured the feel-good underdog story rather than shedding brutal light on the issues that an Indian living in early 20th Century England would have faced. This is not to say the film should have gone the same blunt route of a film such as 12 Years A Slave, but a more elaborate insight into the challenges faced by Ramanujan away from his studies would have increased the audience’s appreciation and the overall depth of the character. There is one single scene that serves to highlight the violence associated with racism and even that seems like a meek attempt at spicing up the storyline rather than serving any substantial purpose. Also, it’s a film about MATHS. That needs to be made clear. For a two hour movie revolving around theoretical problems and mathematical discoveries, a better balance could have been struck between Ramanujan’s career and then the depiction of society during this time.
While not a bad film in any way, The Man Who Knew Infinity is linear. It follows a narrow and direct path, and may prove boring for people not interested in the context of 20th Century British history or people who have a deep love for complex mathematics (you monsters know who you are).