I’m halfway through this pretty and perfectly competent but otherwise ultimately uninvolving biopic of Indian maths genius Srinivasa Ramanujan and I’m trying to figure out what makes the somewhat similar The Theory Of Everything an Oscar contender and The Man Who Knew Infinity something closer to a TV movie.
And finally it hit me: subtext.
James Marsh’s film occasionally plays between the lines, leaving what is going on in the marriage unspoken, giving Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones room to express emotion nonverbally. Both were nominated for their roles. Matt Brown’s screenplay has Patel and Irons say exactly what is on their minds at all times, which leaves them nothing to play with. They weren’t nominated.
Set in Cambridge as Europe readies itself for WWI, maths professor G.H. Hardy (Irons) is impressed by the brave formula posted to him from India but he thinks its campus friend Littlewood (Jones) having a joke. When it turns out it’s a lowly Indian clerk with no education named Srinivasa Ramanujan (Patel), Hardy brings him to England where he arrives full of nervous energy. But his enthusiasm is dulled by racism, stuffy, jealous professors, illness and Hardy’s insistence that he do the donkey work of proof…
The screenplay goes to lengths to underline the Ramanujan’s genius and his breakthroughs but the figures fail to connect with a layman audience: What his work means, why is it is so important, never comes across, making it difficult to invest in his dream of “giving meaning to the negative values of the gamma function.” There is an end credit title that states his work went some way to understanding black holes but that’s a little late in the day.
With all the talk of integers and partitions Brown sets about injecting some heart into the story by cutting to back home and exploring the static between Ramanujan’s wife (Devika Bhise), worried her husband has forgotten about her, and his mother (Arundhati Nag) who inconsistently resists her son’s ambition only later to accuse his wife of not supporting him. Because the romance between husband and wife is nullified by their lack of screen time, the real love story belongs to the slow-burning friendship of the religious Ramanujan and the atheist Hardy, which is delicately handled even if it stops short of confirmed bachelor Hardy’s claim that it was “… the one romantic incident in my life.”
Fine. Watchable. But like Hardy demanding Ramanujan to knock out boring proof, the film too shows its work.