‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ Review: Mathematical Sap

'The Man Who Knew Infinity'

Movie Rating:


‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ is a nice movie. It’s a sweet movie. It’s an inspiring movie. It’s the sort of thing that you can take your parents to. While you’ll likely never talk or even think about the movie again afterwards, at least it was nice in the moment.

The film hits on the right progressive politics and inserts dramatic barriers only to tear them down so that nothing ever seems too bad. Some people love this sort of thing, and those people will love this movie. Others don’t and they likely won’t even know the movie exists. Either way, it’s unlikely that anyone will ever speak of it again in about a year’s time. That’s fine. Disposable sentimentality has its place. It’s like emotional masturbation – sometimes you’ve just got to do it to feel alive.

The movie spits out the true story of Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel), a man with no formal education who made himself a math genius. Desperate to prove his worth, Ramanujan left India to pursue his passion at a higher level. At the time, that meant a trip to Trinity College in Cambridge where he could math it up with the mathiest math genius alive. Of course, he was met with a giant wall of racism, classism and intellectualism that made the journey seem impossible.

Eventually, he found a mentor in an eccentric professor named G. H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons). The accomplished mathematician was a bit of an outsider in his own right. He became fascinated by Ramanujan and agreed to take him on and find him a place in the university. Obviously, adversity followed – both of the expected “institutions fearing the outsider” variety as well as the outbreak of World War I. Our hero is forced to leave behind his love, faces culture clash troubles, and so forth. Let’s be honest, you’ve seen all this before.

‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ is a movie that was pretty much destined to exist. It’s an inspiring true story that fits comfortably within an established bio-pic formula, hitting all the right notes and pulling all the right heartstrings. The movie has both scenes of stuffy old British folk scoffing at our intrepid mathlete while surrounded by rich mahogany, and then scenes of those same characters either emotionally learning the error of their ways or scoffing in disbelief when proven wrong. It has scenes in which a new voice makes old farts see the world in a new way. The teacher becomes the student, the student becomes the teacher. The pictures are pretty. The music swells. It’s like a comforting hug that seems to mean everything in the moment and then nothing seconds later.

At the same time, these old tricks are repeated for a reason. The superficial beats work and the emotional pull delivers. The acting is strong, particularly from the immensely watchable Dev Patel, the almost incomparably consistent Jeremy Irons, and ringers like Toby Jones and Stephen Fry who are always good even when their movies aren’t. The film toys with some interesting notions about the possible connection between mathematic laws and God’s grand design. Welcome bursts of humor often soften the schmaltz and make the whole thing an easy watch.

‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ is hardly a bad movie. It’s just a dull and generic one for anyone who has seen too many of these things. You could do worse and you could do better. There’s a built-in audience who will enjoy it and a mainstream audience who will ignore it. The movie’s fine. It’s out there. It exists. It kind of works. No need to dwell on it.

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