By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Racial prejudice in and of itself holds back the progress of humanity on so many levels. It is an intrinsically human failure that has troubled the world throughout our history. It has been particularly tragic when prejudice obstructs the work of some of our most brilliant minds, as is the case in the story of genius mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. Ramanujan faced much opposition while studying and working at Britain’s Cambridge University during World War I. Ramanujan developed some groundbreaking theories in mathematics; however, he had to work extra hard to not only prove himself as a worthy scholar, but also had to get the University officials to look beyond the color of his skin.
Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) stars as Ramanujan an autodidact mathematician who grew up quite poor in Madras, India. Recently married, Ramanujan feels trapped in his impoverished native city and unable to support his wife Janaki (Devika Bhise). With notebooks full of innovative mathematical theories, he decides to contact Cambridge University to get his work published. Impressed with his work, G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) and John Edensor Littlewood (Toby Jones) convince the very reluctant officials to allow Ramanujan to enroll in the university and prove his abilities. The not-so-worldly scholar struggles with the rigid structure of university studies and also faces much opposition from prejudiced professors and students who refuse to acknowledge Ramanujan’s abilities.
Written and directed by Matthew Brown, based on the book of the same name by Robert Kanigel, The Man Who Knew Infinity is a poignant and moderately inspirational film that tells an important story, but struggles to do it exceptionally. The movie portrays the mind and work of Ramanujan as masterful, but fails to make it exciting for all audience types. People more savvy to mathematical theories probably have a greater appreciation for the accomplishments of Ramanujan’s work, but Brown fails to sell it to lay people who have no clue what his work means. The film does have some glimmers of excitement as expressed by the actors reacting to Ramanujan’s discoveries, but it just isn’t quite enough to impress those who have no clue what his theories mean.
The strengths of the film lie in the matters of the heart, though. The movie is at its most poignant when portraying the difficulties Ramanujan faces when feeling out of his element among the judgmental students, professors, and officials. The movie also focuses on the troubles Ramanujan’s wife has with her husband living so far away and her conflicts with her mother-in-law. Finally, the awkward relationship the protagonist has with his supervisor G.H. Hardy has some lovely moments as well. Despite the issues the film has, there is no denying that it has much heart and the superb cast helps to express these emotions quite beautifully.
Acclaimed actors Jeremy Irons and Toby Jones deliver some lovely performances as Ramanujan’s biggest supporters. The lovely Devika Bhise offers a heartfelt turn as Ramanujan’s loving, but pained wife. Dev Patel, once again, proves with much zeal and passion why he really needs more lead roles in more movies. His charisma and vigor in the film makes a stronger case for the brilliance of Ramanujan than anything written for the film.
In spite of the flawed presentation and execution of Srinivasa Ramanujan’s story, I will still recommend this movie, as the amazing cast elevates the material. The performances by the talented actors are the main reason to see this film. Make no mistake, Ramunjan’s story is a fascinating and inspirational one, but it is one that deserves a stronger cinematic treatment.