A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Man Who Knew Infinity focuses on the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel), a real-life mathematical genius from India who studied at Cambridge University before and during World War I. The film showcases Ramanujan's devotion to his studies, especially in the face of significant racism (he's attacked and beaten in once scene). It's appropriate for teens and even older tweens, who may be impressed with Ramanujan's work ethic. There's no sex and only a little language ("hell," "damn," etc., and some racist comments), though a few scenes do show people drinking and smoking cigarettes, and there's some non-graphic war imagery.
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What's the story?
Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) is a mathematical genius with a profound understanding of complex ideas. He recognizes that it will be almost impossible to share his discoveries with the scientific world in 1914 India, so eventually he finds his way to Cambridge. There, British professor G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) helps Ramanujan refine his discoveries and publish his theories, despite strong opposition from many of their peers who have deeply ingrained racist beliefs and are opposed to recognizing Ramanujan's contributions.
Is it any good?
THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY is constrained by pedestrian storytelling. Ramanujan certainly had an unusual and eventful life as a mostly self-taught mathematician who was eventually recognized as a Fellow of the Royal Society -- one of the United Kingdom's highest honors. But an unusual life isn't the same as one that lends itself to an interesting movie, and that's the main flaw with this biopic.
In the end, the story feels more reverent than entertaining. Patel and Irons share a nice rapport, and Patel deftly expresses Ramanujan's fish-out-of-water experience as a devout Hindu living in England. But it's tough to make math visually compelling, and several of the scenes feel like they're checking off boxes: the racist attack, the character's unpleasant reaction to local food, the discrimination of the Cambridge elite, and more. In the end, they don't add up to create a whole movie that calls out to be seen.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about racism. How did it impact Ramanujan's life and professional accomplishments? Do you think things have changed significantly since the time the movie takes place in? Does the movie use the topics of racism and stereotyping to help convey any positive character strengths?
How does The Man Who Knew Infinity compare to other movies about scientific geniuses? What are the challenges involved in making advanced mathematics compelling on the screen?
What do think about the relationship between Ramanujan and Hardy? Why did Hardy insist that the Indian mathematician conform to English academic practices?
- In theaters: April 29, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: August 23, 2016
- Cast: Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Toby Jones
- Director: Matt Brown
- Studio: IFC Films
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship, History
- Run time: 108 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements and smoking
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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