For me, it has been a long time since a movie has evoked such a wide range of emotions. The Man Who Knew Infinity managed to achieve that by weaving such a wide range of elements together in a way that will keep it in people's minds for a very long time. I must not have been the only one who thought similarly, because the audience (which was a full house) broke into applause as the credits rolled up the screen.
At face value, The Man Who Knew Infinity tells the story of Srinivasa Ramanujan (played by Dev Patel, from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Slumdog Millionaire), a self-taught mathematical genius from Madras in India. Don't let the 'M' word put you off, however. The movie handles the mathematics delicately, and there aren't any moments that require an knowledge or effort on the part of the audience. That is because this is a tale about humanity, love, friendship, selfishness, envy, and tragedy. While there is no doubting Ramanujan's almost legendary status in Mathematics, this movie connects with our emotions by sharing the almost unbelievable personal and relationship challenges that he both enjoyed and endured.
Ramanujan's journey to Cambridge and becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society and Trinity College begins with him using the only surface available to him to record his ideas - chalk on the floor of a temple. His faith in himself and his ability soon has him trying to convince a great number of people to give him a job. After all, he has a new wife to support, and his rather unpleasant mother. After much frustration, he succeeds in finding the support of an Indian manager who works for Sir Francis Spring (played by Stephen Fry). His new supporter is motivated by a desire to show the British that they are not the only game in town, and convinces Stephen Fry's character to send a letter of introduction to G. H. Hardy, the eminent Cambridge mathematician.
After a somewhat amusing misunderstanding on Hardy's behalf, Ramanujan leaves India for England - breaking the laws of his faith, and leaving behind his wife and mother. Even though Hardy is very supportive, an ongoing tug-of-war begins between the two men. While Ramanujan's brilliance is ever apparent, very little of his work is supported by rigorous mathematical proofs. To Ramanujan's eternal frustration, Hardy insists that he deliver these before he is published.
Ramanujan is forced to confront raw racism and professional envy, particularly during WWI, but his greatest battle is with his loneliness because he is away from his new wife. I won't spoil the movie by sharing how that comes to pass, but it is truly heart-breaking and I can only wonder what it must have been like for him to be so far away from home and in such an alien place to him. Ramanujan's genius eventually triumphs, and he is recognised and accepted by the establishment - however, this is soured by his ill-health and the events surrounding his return to India.
Perhaps my only criticism of the film would be that it focused more on his humanity than his work. I would have liked to learn more about his impact that a simple line of text at the end of the movie, however I can understand why the focus was on the circumstances of his life. It was certainly dramatic, and full of raw emotion. I think this is a movie that almost everyone would enjoy, and it connects so beautifully with your own emotions as you follow his journey. I give it 3.5 stars out of 5.