What a great movie: The Man Who Knew Infinity. Subtitle of the original book was A Life of the Genius Srinivasa Ramanujan. Stars are Dev Patel (remember the wonderful Most Exotic Marigold Hotel?) and Jeremy Irons.
Ramanujan, as he is called throughout most of the film, was a brilliant teenager in south India, not well educated, but seeing mathematics clearly in his mind, and writing formulas down as he discovers them, whenever he can find paper. Not so easy for a poor boy in India in the early 20th century. He is married early, looks for a job and gets one as an accountant, and finds a mentor – who then manages to get the English boss to figure out the best mathematician in Britain – G. H. Hardy at Cambridge.
Ramanujan and his mentor write a letter to Hardy, sending along some of his newly-discovered math theories. Hardy thinks his friend and fellow mathematician John Littlewood is pulling yet another prank on him, with all this brilliant work supposedly by a poor boy in India. When Littlewood and Hardy really study the theories, they are blown away – and thus Ramanujan is invited to study at Cambridge – with a young and brilliant troublemaking Bertrand Russell, also a professor, urging them to let Ramanujan run, instead of trying to get him to work on those boring proofs of his genius theorems.
Ramanujan is sympathetic, beautiful, proud and confident. Cambridge, England was not welcoming to this upstart. He could not eat the food, and no one tried to help. He was misunderstood, harrassed, not well taken care of. Hardy was intent on being the schoolmaster, making Ramanujan confirm to standard classroom behavior. The atmosphere of Cambridge and of England (and shades of Harry Potter and Hogwarts) is a major topic of the movie. Lots of meetings of old white men, crochety and plotting, unable and unwilling to change, not believing Ramanujan (and complaining when he steps onto the grass – only Fellows are allowed) and withholding the honors due.
Once Hardy discovers that Ramanujan is ill with tuberculosis, he becomes human and fights hard to have the work recognized. When Cambridge will not declare him a Fellow, Hardy manages, with Littlewood, to have him received as a Fellow of the Royal Society, under the protection of the King. Then comes the honor from Cambridge.
All of this made me grateful that the world has changed. There are not many places left now where only old white males are in charge, denying the truths of other cultures, and the worldwide culture of women. That patriarchal culture is, thankfully, disappearing from the face of the earth. Where it still exists, or is carried out by old non-white men, it needs to be constantly on the defensive – and will eventually disappear as those protagonists do.
The film ends in sadness and beauty. It is so good that this true story is finally told.