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Archive for May, 2016

I have every good reason to recommend watching “The Man Who Knew Infinity”, an account of the life of the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Ramanujan was an amazing figure who had practically no formal training in Mathematics, yet made extraordinary contributions to various fields of the subject. The film centres on his years at Trinity College, Cambridge University, where he worked closely with the English mathematicians G. H. Hardy and J. E. Littlewood.

The film can easily be followed by non-mathematicians. I particularly liked the scene where Ramanujan tries to explain to his wife (and to the general audience) that his love for Mathematics comes from the tendency of mathematical patterns to appear in ways that cause surprise. Hardy also contributes to this by explaining to his butler what Ramanujan was trying to do when tackling the problem of partitions.

The film presents us with some lovely poetic images of India and I cannot forget that scene where Ramanujan’s wife looks on, as her husband sails away in the boat that will take him to a ship bound for England.

Jeremy Irons gives a brilliant performance as the cantankerous G. H. Hardy and at the end of the film quotes from Hardy’s famous and haunting book A Mathematician’s Apology. Dev Patel is also very convincing as the youthful and enthusiastic Ramanujan. The culture shock that he experienced at Cambridge is illustrated well and one can only feel sorry for him, as well for the fact that his life ended so soon.

The only departure from historical fact that I managed to pinpoint concerns the exchange between Ramanujan and Hardy concerning the number 1729. The film shows this as taking place when Hardy bids farewell to Ramanujan, as the latter sets off on his return journey to India. In fact, the exchange took place when Ramanujan was in hospital.

In closing, I must again say ‘bravo’ to the filming world for yet another good film about Mathematics and mathematicians. It has already given us ‘Agora’, ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and ‘The Imitation Game’. I should also include ‘The Theory of Everything’, as Stephen Hawking has used Mathematics so much in his explorations as a cosmologist.

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