The Man Who Knew Infinity
Some of the greatest academic minds of all time have gone through Trinity College, from Isaac Newton and Francis Bacon to Lord Byron and Alfred, Lord Tennsyon. But one of the college’s lesser-known but possibly most brilliant alums was the self-taught Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, who left his home and family in Madras to further his research in Cambridge. There, he teamed up with the English scholar G.H. Hardy and made unparalleled breakthroughs in mathematical theory, becoming the first Indian to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Considered to be one of the most romantic and tragic figures in mathematical history, he struggled to find acceptance among his English peers and spent most of his short life battling illness—and he’s finally getting his due with writer-director Matt Brown’s new biopic, The Man Who Knew Infinity.
Unfortunately, the film is nowhere near as innovative as its subject.
Dev Patel stars as Ramanujan, whom we first meet in colonial India in 1913, living in near-poverty and working as a shipping clerk. He spends all of his free time filling notebooks with elaborate formulas and functions, although his lack of formal education keeps his peers from taking him seriously. Desperate to share his ideas, he writes to Hardy (Jeremy Irons), and although the esteemed academic initially takes the letter as a prank, he soon recognizes Ramanujan’s brilliance and invites him to study at Trinity College.
The result is your standard fish-out-of-water tale, as Ramanujan struggles with culture shock (the Trinity dining hall doesn’t serve vegetarian meals), homesickness (he left his mother and young wife back home in Madras), and administrative pushback (despite Hardy’s encouragement, Trinity’s highest-ranking academics refuse to take Ramanujan’s theories seriously, especially because he’s an Indian).
The film’s heart comes from the unlikely friendship between Ramanujan and Hardy, and Patel and Irons both give nuanced, poignant performances as two men from different worlds, one a deeply religious Indian man who can visualize complicated theories in his head, the other a British atheist obsessed with proof and logic. But the story drags when the two aren’t on screen together, and the result is a clichéd tale that doesn’t quite capture what made Ramanujan such a once-in-a-lifetime intellect. Ramanujan was a brilliant and brave man who, without a doubt, deserves the title of genius. He also deserves a biopic that isn’t so by the numbers. B-