The Man Who Knew Infinity

Infinity is a sympathetic but rousing film on one of the greatest minds of all time – Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Before Albert Einstein there was Srinivasa Ramanujan – A little known fact outside India and the academic community, and precisely why this story had to be told. The Man Who Knew Infinity serves as a biopic behind the life and times of Ramanujan, a self-taught Indian Mathematician, who some say could decipher the very fabric of existence. It’s a poignant film in as much as an emotional roller coaster but an extraordinary story told almost a century after Ramanujan’s early and tragic death in 1920.

That’s because Ramanujan was not only a mathematical prodigy by the age of 11, or that he could mentally compute complex permutations in a fraction of a second, but the fact that at the height of his powers, not many could fathom his genius. Not even the Cambridge scholars who elected him as a Fellow of the Royal Society and also a Fellow of Trinity College – monumental achievements for an Indian with no formal training in mathematics. Based on this true story and adapted from a 1991 book of the same name, writer/director Matthew Brown begins the film in 1914 Madras (back when Madras was rightly called Madras). Ramanujan (Dev Patel) comes from a poor Brahmin upbringing where even note paper is a luxury. He is seen frantically scribbling theorems on slate before sending samples of his work to intellectuals in Cambridge. Within an instant of receiving the latter’s theories, Cambridge academic G. H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) is not only astounded, but invites Ramanujan to study in England – both as his protégé and the missing link since Isaac Newton.

Forced to leave behind his young wife (Devika Bhise) with his mother, this would be the start of many of his problems but not before going on to make profound discoveries in his field of study. Close on the heels of The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, 2014’s Academy Award frontrunners, Brown’s screenplay fits the bill as a rousing film with a lot of heart but not much insight. Instead, it’s more of a sympathetic look at Ramanujan’s poor background and the hardships he would encounter in England, including what looks like an over exaggerated and clichéd case of racial prejudice and a depressing long distance love story with his wife. What this means is Infinity is still a well-made film worthy of a thunderous applause, but does little to focus on Ramanujan’s innate brilliance. However, from a storytelling perspective that’s not really the director’s fault. Consider the fact that almost a century after his death, intellectuals using modern day computers are still baffled by Ramanujan’s integrals and integers. And only as recent as 2012 have scientists confirmed Ramanujan’s incredible intuition that suggests the existence of black holes in deep space – a concept that was virtually unknown during his time.

“Intuition” is Ramanujan’s answer to how he arrives at his conclusions, and the best moments in the film where Hardy forces Ramanujan to provide “proofs”, or sequential steps to his formulae. Without proofs his theories are considered inconceivable and Ramanujan is often dismissed as a charlatan. To its merit, Infinity builds on the relationship between Hardy and Ramanujan, both extreme opposites in their beliefs but recluses who find solace and then inspiration in each other. Irons is perfectly cast as an outspoken atheist opposite Patel who believes his theories come from God. Their symbiotic chemistry builds towards a tearjerker of an ending while adding warmth and closure. Given that Ramanujan was known to be short and stout, Patel might seem like a strange casting choice yet captures his character with integrity and passion and in some ways, a beefier underdog akin to his breakout role in Slumdog Millionaire.

That The Man Who Knew Infinity is aimed as a crowd pleaser is obvious and it works well within this scope. And given the subject matter, this film should also do well in foreign markets, especially multiplexes in the Subcontinent and surrounding regions. What’s more important, and hopefully so, is that the film brings out Ramanujan’s true legacy shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Newton and Einstein. Time, as infinite as itself, will tell.

Rating: ★★★½☆


About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.