The list of people familiar with the name Srinivasa Ramanujan is a short one. Apart from the academic community and his homeland of India, he is practically unknown. Sad that in a world where the name Kardashian tops the Google News search every morning, Ramanujan gets no love. Hopefully, “The Man Who Knew Infinity” will change that and bring the human face, and brilliant mind some form of acclaim, however belated.
Ramanujan was Albert Einstein before there was an Albert Einstein. “Infinity” has hit the screens, and serves as an introduction to life of a self-taught Indian Mathematician. Some academics say he could decipher the very fabric of existence. After viewing “Infinity,” I will take their word for it. Be prepared to hear words like “poignant” when people describe the movie to you. Go see it yourself, since the film is a solid biopic with shades of an emotional roller coaster. Ramanujan’s story is compelling and all-too-brief, due to his tragic death in 1920.
A prodigy by age 11, Ramanujan was not your typical kid. Throw in the fact that he could mentally compute complex permutations in a fraction of a second and you have a story worth telling. Director Matt Brown does an exceptional job of building interest in a movie about a guy who does math. Brown also wrote the screenplay and keeps things moving. It may be the acting that seals the deal.
Dev Patel plays Ramanujan, a man who lives in abject poverty. With paper in short supply, he sends samples of his scribbled theorems to Cambridge, catching the attention of an academic who sees something special. Ramanujan is not just a genius, but a husband forced to leave his wife (played subtly by Devika Bhise) with his mother as he heads to England to study with Cambridge scholar G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons). Ramanujan baffles and astounds everyone around him, even as he is subjected to racism and a long distance relationship that can only be described as heart-wrenching.
His peers and superiors elect him as a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of Trinity College, both are monumental achievements for an Indian with no formal training in mathematics. The British Empire was not prepared for his brain in action. It took until 2012 for scientists to confirm Ramanujan’s intuition that suggested the existence of black holes in deep space, a concept he was essentially pioneered.
Nearly a century after his death, Ramanujan’s ideas are still leaving modern intellectuals baffled. With access to computers, his integrals and integers are still ahead of their time. He and Hardy are polar opposites, one an Atheist (Hardy), the other believing his inspiration comes from God. The two bond over their quest for the truth and both are total recluses that still find comfort in each other. Based on a true story and adapted from a 1991 book of the same name.