The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Boy Who Conquered Indignity

Born in Madras India, to poor and reverent religious parents, Srinavasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) is a self-taught mathematical genius. His enthusiastic passion brings him nothing but ridicule and social rejection from his peers but the young man’s life changes for the better in 1913 when he writes to a distinguished Cambridge mathematician called G.H Hardy (Jeremy Irons). The eccentric atheist Hardy, recognizes the talent and genius in this man’s insights and overcomes the racial prejudice and scepticism of his pompous colleagues to bring this man to Trinity College to develop his ideas and ideologies. This is an intelligently made biopic about one man’s quest for truth and his pursuit to be accepted in a field that he loves.

The beautiful mind of Ramanujan is impaired by the dull, soul-destroying ideologies of early 20th century India where you must be content with your own mediocrity and this is evident. Thinkers are undervalued and Ramanujan’s work was the first of its kind. People saw potential in him but had no idea what he was talking about half the time. He was ridiculed and was basically, a social outcast. He didn’t see maths as other saw it. Many see maths as a string of equations amidst plus, subtract and multiply signs with odd algebraic symbol thrown in. He sees mathematics as way to see the world. To him, mathematics was art and art is being able to see the world in its most basic form in all its glory from the patterns that flow through all things. There are patterns in everything, all you must do is look hard enough to break the surface.

Ramanujan (Dev Patel) and Hardy (Jeremy Irons) (The Man Who Knew Infinity)

Ramanujan (Dev Patel) and Hardy (Jeremy Irons)
(The Man Who Knew Infinity)

This film tells some hard truths about England and India alike in terms of ideologies and society. India can be dull to those who don’t fit in to society’s cultural and social norms. Those are people who see beyond the borders of normal thinking. People like Hardy and Ramanujan are not people people. They thrive within the company of like-minded individuals as well as the voices inside their own heads. Their arrogance and ego is evident but they both teach each others lessons. Ramanujan finds out that he could be wrong and it’s okay to make a mistake. Hardy finds out that his persona is an acquired taste and that he doesn’t treat people like people. He may be a really intelligent man but that doesn’t mean you can be arse about it.

India is known for its arranged marriages among many other customs and traditions as we see near the beginning of the movie. Ramanujan barely knows his wife before embarking on a new life in England. England is also really prejudice and racist as its set in the height of the British Empire. India is still under British rule during World War One. During the film he’s at the brunt of remarks like “blackie” and “wog” from his peers but even lecturers don’t want him there as he makes them all look bad as he’s smarter than they are.

Dev Patel as Ramanujan (The Man Who Knew Infinity)

Dev Patel as Ramanujan
(The Man Who Knew Infinity)

Nobody is really there to greet Ramanujan at Cambridge. The university lecturers order him to keep off the grass and the cafeteria is short on veggie options. Having been a veggie myself, I can sympathize. Both these things improve the film’s authenticity a lot since they were granted access to film at the real Trinity College. The creative thinking that stimulate his work seem to have no place in modern academics and the academic circles personified the classic English pomposity and stiff upper lip as well our ability to stay as facially rigid as a cliff face. This is on a good day, and on a bad day Ramanujan would be at the end of racially fuelled hostility. A prime example was by the cruel and always agitated, Professor Howard (Anthony Calf).

The only welcoming professor really is John Littlewood in the form of a great British talent, Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).This is the same John Littlewood that Hardy would later develop the renowned Hardy-Littlewood conjecture in relation to twin primes. Coincidently, prime numbers are a square root that Hardy, Littlewood and Ramanujan share. The latter is obsessed and he doesn’t know when to stop. He works all the time and never does anything else. Ramanujan would spend his day running after Hardy with his proofs and his nights writing more mind-boggling theorems in his notebook yet Littlewood and Hardy would marvel at them like they were a gift from God. The God concept makes a lot of sense in the film since Ramanujan is a Hindu and says that his theories are from his God yet Hardy is an atheist. Being an atheist being a scornable offence in those days.

Ramanijan (Patel) meets Littlewood (Jones)

Ramanijan (Patel) meets Littlewood (Jones)

The people who hinder Ramanujan the most aren’t the racist professors or the other students. Surprisingly, it’s the man who invited Ramanujan in the first place. It’s Hardy who stops him. Hardy is in awe of his gifts but is constantly wanting proofs. Without proofs, you won’t be taken seriously. He needs to see how Ramanujan arrived at such theorems. But what makes Hardy disgruntled is that he hasn’t got a degree or any formal training. He urges Ramanujan to stop his creative unorthodox thinking and to focus on his proofs. Proofs are the point by point demonstrations of how you got to the answers and they are also what will back up your ideas when you are scrutinised by outside sources like the people who want him to fail. They would like to see nothing better than to see him fail, because he’s Indian and because he’s Hardy’s recommendation. Hardy is not very popular because of his beliefs (atheism) but also because he was anti-war (wanting peace). Ramanujan failing would embarrass Hardy and many would revel in such things.

The verbal confrontations between Hardy and his pupils are examples of the best pieces of acting in the film. It’s not only a clash of opinions. It’s an intellectual disagreement and ideological one too since one is an atheist but one is not. Hardy is an atheist and is shackled to his logical thought. But for Ramanujan, maths isn’t only about logic. Mathematics is art. He is literally a human calculator but his skills write as poetry and that’s how he sees it. It’s a song written in formula.

The Real Ramanujan/Ramanujan (Dev Patel) and Hardy (Irons)

The Real Ramanujan/Ramanujan (Dev Patel) and Hardy (Irons)

In my opinion Dev Patel (Newsroom) has given his career best here. Since his emergence in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, he’s gone to do all numbers of different things. He’s gained a lot experience playing intellectuals who get thrown many curveballs and somehow manage to hold it together through skill, hope and sometimes just pot luck. Patel excels in this role and it is evident on-screen. A truly grand performance from a young actor who I believe will do many excellent performances in the future. Irons was born to play the rigid, grumpy yet likeable Hardy. Despite these things, Hardy is a deeply kind, caring and loyal man. Jeremy Irons’ (Batman V Superman) performance fleshes out Patel’s own performance and their rapport onscreen is truly great.

Ramanujan’s life was a short one dying at 32 from TB. With most biopics, you feel as if something has been accomplished and you feel good after watching it. The end result is normally something to be proud of which it was in this film. I felt that despite this feeling this way, he died at a young age from an incurable disease (at the time). I felt this put a downer on the whole movie. He does all this work and then his health makes nosedive. I guess it’s true that most brilliant of people always come with a catch. He could have accomplished so much and he died so young. Biopics normally end on a lighter note but this ends very depressingly.

Ramanujan (Dev Patel) always on the go. (The Man Who Knew Infinity)

Ramanujan (Dev Patel) always on the go.
(The Man Who Knew Infinity)

In conclusion, this is a wonderful movie. It starts off positive and feel good then goes into this downward spiral of bleak sadness three-quarters way through the movie. That’s not negative point in terms of the film’s makeup. It’s just how this man’s life went and they captured it really well. It has great acting from all the cast including Toby Jones and Stephen Frey in support, as well great direction and writing. Furthermore, I enjoyed the soundtrack and the relevent sociological and cultural themes that were displayed throughout. Overall, a well-structured film with a good narrative pushed along by interesting storyline.

Witty, sad, intelligent, mind-boggling, intriguing and thought-provoking all at the same time