As one of the most influential mathematicians of the 20th century, Srinivasa Ramanujan developed theorems that are the basis for many things today, including calculations pertaining to black holes. In fact, his theorems still leave mathematicians flabbergasted to this day. Relatively unknown to the general public, “The Man Who Knew Infinity” looks to correct this. Written and directed by Matt Brown (“Ropewalk”), the film intends to be engaging and awe-inspiring, but for several reasons, it is neither.
Dev Patel plays Ramanujan, who, without any formal education, has written pages upon pages of theorems that have confounded even the most intelligent mathematicians of his time. Confined to work a job to provide for his mother (Arundathi Nag) and new wife (Devika Bhise), Ramanujan sends off his samples of his theorem to acclaimed mathematician and scholar, G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons).
Hardy is a recluse and the only real friend he has at Trinity College is Littlewood (Toby James). So impressed is he by Ramanujan’s raw mathematical talent, he pays to have him come to Cambridge and develop under his tutelage. Ramanujan arrives in Cambridge to Hardy’s kindness, but distant demeanor, and also to the not-so-kind comments by the students and professors of the college. Not one to be deterred, Ramanujan wants to publish his theorems, but Hardy believes he needs to focus on proofs and gain more experience so that he can be taken seriously. Over the years, the two strike up an interesting friendship that’s based on intelligence and opposing opinions.
Ramanjuan, as a person, is quite extraordinary. He advanced the world of mathematics without ever having a formal education and his theorems were high-caliber and theoretically sound. This, in and of itself, is quite inspiring. Why, then, is the film not? I understand, it’s difficult to portray the world of math in a way that has you leaning forward in your seat, but it’s almost as if Brown isn’t trying hard enough to weave together a top-notch story. Worried more about getting the facts in there, “The Man Who Knew Infinity” moves at a glacial pace and barely goes into Ramanujan’s background. Not enough to truly sympathize with him when he gets homesick or when he becomes ill later on.
Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons go a long way in making the movie more interesting. Their interactions are always top notch and they try to bring far more to their characters than the script allows for. The trouble here is that we have several conversations between the pair and, while their onscreen relationship has a lot of potential, it doesn’t quite encompass the depth of either of their characters.
Not only that, but the insertion of Ramanujan’s life back in India, is jilted and may as well have been cut from the film. His wife is jaded by the fact that they’re newlyweds, but Ramanujan has to go to England before they’ve even started their lives together. Their relationship doesn’t inform or develop the narrative except to let us know that Ramanujan is homesick.
“The Man Who Knew Infinity” isn’t a terrible biopic, but as a film, it plays it too safe and keeps its characters from being fully realized. Of course, there are some strong moments in the film, but it is overshadowed by the lack of proper character development. I’m not a math whiz, but I wanted to go into this film completely and utterly inspired and excited for a film about math. Unfortunately, the film never hits the right notes in order for it to rise from its underwhelming mediocrity.
"The Man Who Knew Infinity" isn't a terrible biopic, but as a film, it plays it too safe and keeps its characters from being fully realized.