Thought it was great, though I would have liked to see more “Tamil-looking” actors for the Indian characters. But I guess there aren’t many with the name recognition that Dev Patel has in western cinema.
Usually movies about GEEEEEEEENYUSSSSS are quite heavy-handed and amp up the mindless adulation in compensation for not being able to show the work and the thoughts. But I thought this film handled those aspects quite well, though I was still a little dissatisfied. And the actors said mathy things very much the way actual mathematicians would. Very refreshing!
Totally recommend seeing it, on a big screen if possible, as the lighting is subtle and I’m not sure I really could have seen everything on a little screen.
I can say with absolute confidence that this is the only movie I have ever seen that left me thinking that it should have had more math.
I enjoyed the movie (I enjoy any movie with Jeremy Irons), but I left it still wondering exactly what it was that made Ramanujan such a genius, especially since so much of the movie dealt with people who dismissed his work.
Yeah, I really wished we had seen more of Ramanujan’s interactions with his Madras Port Trust Office colleague Narayana Aiyer, who was an interesting character in his own right. Narayana Aiyer was a quite advanced amateur mathematician who enjoyed puzzle problems in math journals, and he and Ramanujan worked together on math problems most evenings. This would have been a great opportunity to show the fun and collegiality of mathematical discussions on problem-solving, even if the actual language used in short snatches of mathematical dialogue would have been gibberish to most viewers.
Here’s a charming puzzle problem from the Journal of the Indian Mathematical Club that Narayana Aiyer published a solution to:
Imagine a cute 5-minute scene of the two colleagues discussing that problem, perhaps inspired by watching a couple of children playing a wagering game. Way more interesting and lighthearted than the rather stale reverential awe of Ramanujan and Janaki talking about BYOOOOOTEEE.
Another fact that I think is as touching as anything we saw in the Ramanujan/Janaki relationship: As mentioned in the movie, paper was quite expensive for someone in Ramanujan’s position, so when he and Narayana Aiyer worked on math together, they did their temporary calculations on slates, like the ones schoolchildren used for their sums. When Ramanujan left for England, he and Narayana Aiyer exchanged their slates, for each to remember the other by. Awwwwwww!
I found a lot of the Janaki scenes quite tiresome especially the sub-plot about her mother-in-law hiding the letters which was like something from a bad Indian soap opera.
I am still puzzled by the decision to make Hardy so old. In reality he was just ten years older than Ramanujan and was 37 when they met. Jeremy Irons is 67 . I guess they wanted some kind of father-son dynamic between the two.
Incidentally PC Mahanalobis, the Indian student who befriends Ramanujan, was a real person who later became a major statistician and a key figure in Indian economic planning.
Thanks! I also think a little more could have been made of the support of Sir Francis Spring, who kept a voluminous correspondence going with various officials and others to try to find backing for Ramanujan’s work.
And that could have brought in some responses from some of the other mathematicians who looked at some of Ramanujan’s early results and found that some of his findings on divergent series were actually wrong. A lot more could have been fleshed out about mathematics and Ramanujan’s approach to it, shifting the focus from a somewhat trite subaltern-underdog-achieves-stardom-despite-smug-colonial-racist-snobbery tale to a deeper exploration of how an isolated prodigy was able to develop and reveal his insights. And it could have been worked in quite subtly without adding much runtime or replacing “human interest” non-mathematical scenes, which I think generally were very well done.
Interesting reviewby Scott Aaronson a computer scientist.
This bit boggled my mind:
My assessment of the film has increased significantly after reading stuff like this. My initial reaction was lukewarm but considering the constraints in making a Hollywood film about an Indian mathematician I now think it’s a decent achievement.
I only wish we lived in a world where filmmakers made films about mathematics and science which are interesting and accessible while giving us real insights into the work itself. Part of it is an audience problem but I also think there is a “two cultures” problem where few competent filmmakers know much about science.
Or they wanted Jeremy Irons (or he was interested in the project, and they went with him because Jeremy Irons.)
It’s possible that I might have seen the film even without Jeremy Irons, but his role in the film made it a must-see for me. They thankfully decided not to go with the white nurse idea, so a notable, well-recognized, award-winning actor was the next best thing.
I felt that way, too. So he’s got personal drama with his mother and wife and the bigots around him… who the fuck cares? In any given decade, there are 1729 forgettable movies about personal struggle - I want to see some math, dammit.
This and The Imitation Game and really any number of biopics about scientists tend to leave me wanting to go see a good documentary about the subject, free of all the tacked-on or over-emphasized crap meant to play on an audience’s emotions rather than fire their imaginations.