"The Man Who Knew Infinity" tells the story of the great Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. Ramanujan was born into a very poor family on December 22nd, 1887 but managed to be admitted to the University of Cambridge during the First World War.
He died on April 26th, 1920 in Kumbakonam
Through his childhood and youth Ramanujan showed a great deal of interest in mathematics and was largely self-taught, learning mathematics alone from two books that he obtained before the age of sixteen, showing a drive for independent and original thought. These books allowed him to establish a strong basis in the theory of numbers, on continuous fractions and on divergent series, while creating his own rating system. Through the help of his employer he was able to have very papers published in Indian mathematical journals and they attempted to interest European mathematicians in his work by sending out letters.
One of these letters, sent in January 1913 to Godfrey Harold Hardy, contains a long list of formulas and theorems without a demonstration. This was one of Ramanujan weakest areas, and one that held him back in his attempt to achieve recognition. Hardy first considers this unusual consignment to be a deception, and then discusses it extensively with John Littlewood to convince him that his author is certainly a "genius", a qualifier that is now generally overused and meaningless. Hardy responded to Ramanujan and invited him to come to England; a fruitful collaboration, in the company of Littlewood, results from this collaboration.
Yet it was one that was to be short lived. Affected all his life by health problems, Ramanujan sees his condition worsened during his stay in England due to the cold winters and harsh living conditions he must endure; He returned to India in 1919 where he died shortly thereafter in Kumbakonam at the age of thirty-two. He left behind the books of unsubstantiated theories which, at the beginning of the 21st century, continue to be studied and proven by modern day mathematicians.
Ramanujan worked mainly on elliptic functions and on the analytic theory of numbers; It became famous for his calculations involving constants such as π and e, prime numbers or even the partition function of an integer, which was studied with Hardy. A great creator of mathematical formulas, he invented several thousand of them which practically all proved accurate, but some of which could not be demonstrated until after 1980 when computer models could became more common; some of them, Hardy particularly, was amazed by their originality, he once said that "only one glance was enough to realize that they could only be thought of by a first-rate mathematician. They had to be true, for if they had been false, no one would have had enough imagination to invent them."
The film "The Man Who Knew Infinity" stars Dev Patel as the protagonist Srinivasa Ramanujan. And though it was first released in 2015 I just now had the chance to see it. For an actor to interpret this role must have been a challenge both professionally and personally since Dev makes you believe that these impossible calculations are pouring from inside.
This film tells of a story, the full story, of his success and demise. It is at the same time a very inspiring story, one that people will recognize while at the same time heart wrenching.
I didn't know anything about this amazing man before I watched the film.
But at the same time I realized that this must be true for others as well. For that reason I decided to make him into today's topic. I thought if I could help make his legacy known to just one other person it would be something very positive, indeed.
That's why I am writing this revue.
I found his setbacks so personal, so harrowing. For example once in the United Kingdom, the mathematician had to face rejection and racism.
Outside of the men that knew him at Cambridge, few others were in a position to share much of his life. There are no videos or interviews like there would be today. It is impossible to know how he spoke or how he carried himself. It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words and yet they do so little to tell the story of who this man was. Still, the filmmakers tried to capture the essence of a man who died almost a hundred years prior. They looked at him through the lens of photographers, they tried to understand what he read. In the end I think they managed to reflect him in the film so that he felt tangible, real, even though his intellect was anything but.
If you can I would highly recommend watching this beautiful movie.