By Will Barber Taylor
Growing up poor in Madras, India, Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar earns admittance to Cambridge University during WWI, where he becomes a pioneer in mathematical theories with the guidance of his professor, G.H. Hardy.
The world of maths might not always seem the most exciting or engaging subject for a film. However, The Man Who Knew Infinity, like its main character, defies any judgement or expectation you might have about the subject. At its core, the film isn’t even about maths. It is about the indelibility of the human spirit and that no matter what the circumstances of your place in society, you can break through and succeed.
The crux of this message is based on the relationship between Ramanujan (Dev Patel) and Hardy (Jeremy Irons). Both are outsiders; whilst Ramanujan’s status as an outsider is more obvious, Hardy is also not of the “Cambridge world”. As the son of a teacher, compared to characters like Bertrand Russell, Hardy’s friend, who was the son of a Viscount and grandson of a Prime Minister Hardy is certainly an outsider.
As the film’s centre are two unorthodox characters, it offers us a quirky charm; whilst Hardy might appear to be more “establishment” than Ramanujan, some of the best moments come at their own contrasting ways of fighting against the “normality” of Cambridge life. Yet these qualities would be nothing without the stylistic flourishes that the film employs; Hardy’s jittering pipe, clenched between his teeth as his saunters around Cambridge epitomises the outsider nature of his character. In the same way, Ramanujan’s vegetarianism and apparent unorthodox methods means that Hardy is the perfect foil; Hardy doesn’t agree with the puritan attitudes of Cambridge yet he knows he has to follow them and that Ramanujan must as well for his discoveries to be fully accepted. This constant tension provides the film’s dramatic core and some of the best comic moments littered throughout it.
Dev Patel’s central performance as Ramanujan is the highlight of the film. Patel’s sincere and dedicated depiction of a genius forced to conform to a society that does not fit him is both heart-breaking and inspiring. His love for his wife (Devika Bhise) is touching and Patel doesn’t make Ramanujan a mere calculating machine – he is a fully rounded person who wants to pursue his mathematical calling but also wants to live with his wife and family. It is this heart rending split between his calling and his wife, so well demonstrated in a pivotal scene between Patel and Irons, that makes Patel’s portrayal so compelling.
Overall, The Man Who Knew Infinity is a film about humanity at its very best and at its very worst. It is a story of human endurance in the face of innumerable odds and a film which show that infinity is just a number, that in our own way we can reach.