a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|This biographical film starring Dev Patel as Ramanujan and Jeremy Irons as Hardy is based on the biography of the same name by Robert Kaniglel. Because it is a rather reliable adaptation of that non-fictional book, perhaps its inclusion on this list is questionable. However, there are some intentional variations from the known history which are taken with "poetic license", and in any case the specific dialogue and many other details are obviously the creation of Matt Brown and it is in that sense that I am classifying this as fiction.
The story of the untrained mathematician Ramanujan, his brilliant insights into number theory, his collaboration with British mathematicians Hardy and Littlewood, and his tragic death at a young age are all fascinating, but they are also already well-known to most people with an interest in mathematics. This film will hopefully help to bring the story to a wider audience.
George Andrews has written an informative review of ("report on"?) the film which appears in the AMS Notices.
The emotional high point of the film is when Ramanujan finally achieves the honor of being called a fellow. Hardy works very hard to get the other fellows at Cambridge to grant him this honor which. To me, at least, it seems that this subplot in the film receives a disproportionate amount of attention as compared with the question of whether his mathematical ideas were factually correct. I personally cared much more about whether he really did find a formula for the number of partitions of n than whether this room full of "stuffed shirts" grants him the right to walk on the grass. However, although everyone seeing the film will clearly recognize when that honor is granted, the people I watched the movie with were all unclear about the status of his mathematical claims even at the end of the movie.
Perhaps that suggests that I am overly concerned with mathematical rigor (or, should I use the British spelling and say "rigour"). This was another central focus of the film, and to me at least it is of greater importance. As I understand the history, it was certainly true that Ramanujan made lots of amazing claims but did not offer mathematical proofs to support them, and the movie makes that quite clear. I agree with the viewpoint represented by Hardy in the film: it was important for Ramanujan to learn to be more rigorous in his work both so that he himself could tell which of his ideas were correct and which were not and so that he could convince others of the truth and importance of the ones that were. However, the film did not thoroughly endorse this viewpoint. I think the audience was supposed to at least be sympathetic to the idea that Hardy was ruining Ramanujan by his insistence on mathematical proofs. Strangely, this viewpoint, the idea that Ramanujan should just have been left to "run free", was represented in the film by Bertrand Russell. The co-author of a three-volume set of tomes attempting to provide a firm foundation for arithmetic seems like an odd choice for a person to argue against the importance of mathematical rigor! (Or, is there evidence that Russell ever actually offered such arguments in the case of Ramanujan? I am not an expert on the historical evidence.)
Religion is a theme in much of the movie, between references to Hardy's atheism and also Ramanujan's insistence that the source of his mathematical observations was his goddess. To me, both of these ideas seem to have been misrepresented. Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect anything deep to be said about such a controversial topic in feature length film, but I think it would be possible to do better than the cartoonish misrepresentations shown here.
|More information about this work can be found at www.imdb.com.|
|(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)|
Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books
let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.
(Maintained by Alex Kasman,
College of Charleston)
(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)