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[Joint Review] – ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’

 
 
Overview
 

Release Date: 17 September 2015 [USA]
 
Director: Matt Brown
 
Writer: Matt Brown [Screenplay] - Robert Kanigel [Biography]
 
Cast: Jeremy Irons - Toby Jones - Dev Patel
 


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Posted December 28, 2015 by

 
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Lestat’s Perspective:

A young mathematical genius, stuck in a poor home in faraway India, strives to get his theories noticed by the finest scientists in the world. Will he succeed, will he be remembered? And most importantly, is he really a genius?

‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ fits in with Hollywood’s latest trend of humanising underdog scientists. Trawl through enough history, and you will find a number of unsung heroes who have inadvertently led to the many technological advancements we take for granted today.

This particular story is based on the biography of the same name, written by Robert Kanigel about Srinivasa Ramanujan (Patel). The science of Ramanujan in 1920 was so advanced that those in his field were wont to suspect its veracity. Add to that the tensions of the World War and Imperial England’s rule of India, and the cards were stacked against him.

But Ramanujan is still remembered and in academic circles, revered. None of this would have been possible had he not been taken under the wing of bitter old professor G. H. Hardy (Irons). Hardy brought Ramanujan over to Cambridge University and at his insistence on providing proofs for his theories, Ramanujan adds to his credibility as a real student of the sciences.

All of this winds its way through the nearly two hour run time of the film. It took writer-director Matt Brown nearly ten years to get this film made and he should be proud of his achievements. The film balances the technical side of the story with the more heart-wrenching story of love, loss and isolation. The sprawling landscape of both old Madras (now Chennai) and the grounds of Trinity College London (which has never before opened itself up for a film crew) are both equally important characters in the film, adding to the pathos and majesty of the situation.

This film was a labour of love and it comes through. Apparently Stephen Fry, who was a minor cameo early on in this film, at one point was trying to get this story made. When he couldn’t, he gladly joined this production.

Unfortunately the film suffers from trying a little too hard. There is a little too much drama added in the mix, and it is done at the cost of making the maths and the importance of Ramanujan’s theories shine through. The audience are left a little baffled as to what exactly all the fuss is about, because it isn’t brought into focus. The human interest story remains central to the film, but it loses its significance when we no longer understand the stakes.

It doesn’t help that the drama edged into melodrama, with an orchestral score thrown into the mix. There are subtler ways of showing a young man’s world shattered, without using the ancient technique of a revolving camera.

Dev Patel tries his hardest to embody Ramanujan, but I don’t think forcing him into a fake Tamil accent did him any favours. I’m sure he’s talented, but it didn’t come across in this film. It’s even more at odds when he’s sharing screen space with Irons (who is not at his best in this film, but still admirable none the less) and Toby Jones (who somehow didn’t remind me of Arnim Zola in this film).

The film has completed its initial Film Festival run, but I’m sure it will be picked up by one of the studios soon enough. When it’s in the mainstream film scene, it’s likely to be titled an Oscar-baiter.

This film doesn’t come across as cohesive, with choppy editing and uneven pacing. There were scenes that should have been tighter and others that could have done with expanding. But, it’s important for films like this to be made so as to bring to light these unknown game-changers from around the world. If nothing else, it gives actors of colour an opportunity to star in significant roles and add to the diversity of story landscapes.

Written by:

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Lestat de Lioncourt
Random Thoughts – Lestat’s Blog
@EnsignLestat58
Freelance Contributor

 

Alston’s Perspective:

Ever wonder what happened to the likes of movies such as ‘The Imitation Game’, ‘Good Will Hunting’ and ‘Shawshank Redemption’? Whatever happened to movies which focused on simple storytelling over dollar-grabbing, over-budged blockbusters that are expected to make more money than the mafia? Fret not, we finally have another winner. And with a one of the greatest indians of all time? Hear hear!
‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ is a beautifully crafted biopic based on the book with the same name, telling the story of a famous and self taught man of numbers, Srinivasa Ramanujan, whose mathematical discoveries and findings took him around the world and into the hands of Professor Hardy of Cambridge University during WW1. They soon dwell into their minds and unlock the secrets to advanced mathematics, and brew an unconventional relationship, one that does not make its way this pleasantly enough on to film.
SPOILERS! Just kidding, it’s based on a true story pfft. Keep on reading.
The movie has the word ‘discovery’ as the helm of its storyline. We are introduced to a lovely representation of a 1913 India, a unique world from which Ramanujan emerges. He is crafted quite steadily, showing his beginnings with his family, wife and the local villagers around him. From writing math equations that roams his minds on the floors of the local temple, the 30 something math wizard makes his way to the UK to indulge in something that is bigger than his numbers for the first time in his life. The cultural shock hits him as expected yet he puts up with it as he believes he is there to change peoples’ lives with his work. While others may not seem too kind as they are used to the more ‘paler’ side of people, he is welcomed with handshakes over prayerful gestures at the gates of the university and is supported by people who believe in change more than anything. The 1900’s was a whole other time, one that expressed a whole lot of ‘colorful discrimination’. Hardy stands up for his new friend in the mathematical courts, hoping they recognize his brilliance and make note of his work by giving an elegant speech about his friend on his breakthroughs, religious beliefs and passion.
Although what really brings this delightful story to life isn’t the numbers but the chemistry Ramanujan and Hardy share. Whilst their cultural and religious differences and unalike approaches to problem solving seem to have proven to be challenging, a friendship is brewed through the flame they create overtime, one which is more silent than obvious. The plot holds the truth as its based on actual events, and goes ahead to show the protective nature and traditional-minded nature of Ramanujan’s mother as she tries to separate him from his wife. While trying to live out his dreams, he also does it in the hopes to take care of the both of them who seek his support.
You would think something as serious as being diagnosed with tuberculosis would stop him, you are wrong. He continues on his road to success to prove himself by enduring a painful life during the war. He is remembered not for his discoveries but for the humble and loving man he was amongst his family and friends. A fine man whose discoveries get published, he is made a member of a prestigious and elite group of mathematical members.This rendition of the famous mathematician leaves not only the people in his life with warm hearts but with you feeling for this simple natured man and all the people who have supported his bright journey.
Dev Patel has made it onto a number of great movies like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, ‘Chappie’, and ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’, but none those have allowed him to stretch his acting chords like this movie has as Srinivasa Ramanujan. His acting prowess breathes life into this traditional brahmin who gives up a whole lot more than just his wife and family to fulfill his dreams. His interactions with both people and inanimate objects are quite interesting to watch, while he constantly reminds himself of who he is and where he comes from. Jeremy Irons plays the sharp Professor Hardy, whose talent ranges from narrating to acting and back to narrating, that baritone voice, I tell you. We see him bring to life the shy old man who accepts Ramanujan’s findings and instills humility into his friend who comes from very little. It’s quite interesting to see the dynamics between these two polar opposites play out, like opposing magnets coming together. Things get even better with the merriness of Hardy’s friend Mr. Littlewood played by Toby Jones. Along with all the notorious outbursts around poor Ramanujan, he reminds Hardy to stay by Ramanujan’s side when times are hard. Ramanujan’s wife Janaki played by newcomer Devika Boise brings about her an unspoken and traditional love for her husband, which is quite warming as she waits for him back in India.
While the movie might possess an unfamiliar storyline, it manages to stay exactly in line with every true story movie that is based off of a book, making it lack originality and does not manage to surpass them, although in a few trivial ways mostly, all of which can be forgiven for. A lot may argue over the movie’s depiction of the main element of the movie, that being advanced mathematics. Being a complex subject, the movie manages to breeze over the idea, with talks of how important it is, its place in our world and how it can bring about great change if solved. A momentous movie like this is accompanied by light hearted humor, especially between Professor Hardy and his friend Mr. Littlewood and is something to look forward to. Along with the discoveries that were brought to light during that time, the movie hints at one which was soon to be made right after that, one which was also discovered in the name of Ramanujan, which is definitely something to watch out for.
Matt Brown has managed to be the real discovery over here with his exceptional storytelling and directorial skills for a newcomer. He has managed to bring one of the most bold and untold stories of the 20th century to us all who have expected a lot from fine cinema and to those people such as myself who never paid attention during his history lectures. It not only shows off its hero’s bright tale but the bonds in friendship that can make the very difference in the world people are hoping to receive. With its beautiful imagery and background music that compliments one another simultaneously, Brown has proven to be a master behind a camera. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when we are graced by a unique movie like this once in a while as you will find yourself appreciating such cleverly crafted, heartfelt movies when they make themselves rare to us. ‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ is one which is a painting with a whole bunch of colors and makes its way into cinemas on May 5th!

Written by:

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Alston Rodrigues
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Freelance Contributor

 

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