Hot Take: Why would you make a biopic about a self-taught mathematical genius whose work is considered inspired, imagined and original by the numbers?
The true story of Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel), a poor Indian man who happens to be a self-taught mathematical genius, and his relationship with G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) is interesting. It’s easy to see why someone thought this tale deserved it’s moment on the big screen. The Man Who Knew Infinity attempts to give the story it’s moment and does an adequate job of telling the story but lacks the imagination and originality spoken of regarding Ramanujan’s work. Instead, the tale is a measured, dutiful, paint by numbers biopic that informs but not much else.
In 1913, when Ramanujan and Hardy meet, Indians are looked upon as lesser than equal to the English. Hardy and his mathematician cohorts at Trinity College are skeptical of Ramanujan’s mathematical theories because of his background. Hardy and his closest confidant Littlewood (Toby Jones) are the only two — at first — who believe Ramanujan may be a genius. As the story progresses, we witness the challenges Ramanujan has in England. He battles prejudice and hatred and grows ill at some point during his stay. The socially inept Hardy fails to warm to the prodigy and the relationship is strained as Hardy pushes Ramanujan to help Hardy prove his work and disprove the doubting mathematical world at Trinity wrong.
There are a number of things that work here as Irons and Patel both deliver strong performances. Jones also has a couple of delightful moments on screen. Devika Bhise who plays Janaki, the wife Ramanujan leaves behind in India, also does an above average job. Unfortunately, despite a number of good to very good performances, it adds up to a very adequate but average telling of an intriguing story. Throughout the film there are frequent mentions of Ramanujan’s creative, inspirational and original work. The film, however, is more mechanical in it’s telling and lacks the passion and any originality. The Man Who Knew Infinity is adequate and taking such risks could have resulted in a mess but without them, the movie is stuck being average.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Irons and Patel
The pair have good chemistry on screen and the awkward relationship between two geniuses who lack interpersonal polish is very believable throughout.
- The Story of Ramanujan
Even without the bells and whistles, Ramanujan’s story is inspirational and moving. His impact on the world of mathematics is bigger than the film expresses. Even though the film doesn’t prove it, you know it’s the case by the time the credits roll.
- Toby Jones
Jones’ character Littlejohn is Hardy’s only real friend in the film. Littlejohn adds some of the lighter, more humorous moments but also plays a part in some of the deeper, heavier themes. Jones does a delightful job with the role and holds his own on the screen with Irons which isn’t easy to do with such a heavyweight.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Simple Biopic Equation
In the last 12 months, I was irritated by Aaron Sorkin’s choices in Steve Jobs and delighted by Don Cheadle’s decisions in Miles Ahead. The two biopics take a road less traveled and while I hated Steve Jobs, The Man Who Knew Infinity gave a new perspective on the way it was told. Ramanujan’s tale could have benefitted from some risk in it’s storytelling. It may have failed but the subject deserved that much.
- It Didn’t Feel Like 1913 Sometimes
Watching the film, it never felt like the movie was placed properly in it’s time period. There were plenty of reminders of a less modern time but the authenticity of the portrayal of the early 1900s felt a little off.