The Man Who Knew Infinity is based on the true story of Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar (Dev Patel), a brilliant young man who grew up poor in Madras, India, during the time of the first World War. Convinced that he has something to offer the world in the area of pure mathematics, Ramanujan sends his work to Professor G. H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) at Cambridge University and he is quickly invited to become a student. However, upon his arrival, he quickly realizes that his lack of formal education and race will likely provide barriers to his success. Nevertheless, as he begins his revolutionary work, he also forms a strong bond with his mentor Hardy as the two challenge each other in mathematics, science, and faith.
Directed by Matt Brown, the film felt like other recent ‘scientific biopics’ such as The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game. Given a solid script from which to work, both Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel have solid onscreen chemistry together and appear to play well off one another. However, what was most interesting to me was that this was the first mainstream film dedicated to science in recent memory that not only allowed for an intelligent view of faith, but actually encouraged it. Unlike other films of this genre, The Man Who Knew Infinity explores the balanced relationship between scientific proof and belief in the movement of God.
Although Ramanujan is not an evangelical Christian, his constant quest for the mind of God absolutely stymies his atheistic mentor. As Hardy pushes him to prove his findings, Ramanujan pushes back, not out of laziness but out of belief that God was speaking directly to him on this issue. For him, his efforts are a spiritual thing of beauty, as opposed to cold, hard facts. “Pure mathematics is an art form that stems from the mind of God,” he extolls.
When asked about this relationship between faith and science after the film, director Matt Brown argued that he believed this component was essential to the story.
“I really tried to stay true to the integrity of the story,” he begins. “It was true that Hardy was an atheist. Ramanujan felt that mathematics expressed the mind of God so it was just an incredible story of these two people and I didn’t want to shy away from it. The longer I was with the project and the more I learned about pure mathematics… I could see that math as art… When I started to get into it, I was so blown away by the power of it and the order of it all and it made me question–and I wouldn’t want to force God onto anyone–but it made me look at the connection between… a higher power and mathematics. It’s just so incredible. For me, it was really fun to… embrace the mathematics and the bigger questions that come into that.”
While the film itself certainly stands on it’s own merit, this spiritual quest certainly raises the bar. The relationship between Hardy and Ramanujan offers not only a strong glimpse into the racial tensions of the first World War but also explores a deeper spiritual longing that is often neglected in contemporary mainstream film.
One might even suggest that it expresses the mind of God.
The Man Who Knew Infinity
Starring Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons
d. Matt Brown
**** (out of five)