To Infinity and Beyond: The Man Who Knew Infinity and Born to Be Blue 

One film is about faith in "proofs," the other is proof of infallibility.

Geniuses at work: Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel (left) in The Man Who Knew Infinity and Ethan Hawke (right) as Chet Baker in Born to be Blue.

Courtesy of IFC and Courtesy of New Real Films

Geniuses at work: Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel (left) in The Man Who Knew Infinity and Ethan Hawke (right) as Chet Baker in Born to be Blue.

They're called "proofs": self-evident demonstrations of existence. With origins dating back to the ancient Greeks, proofs have been mankind's empirical evidence of precision and order; and to a large degree, irrefutable proofs shield humans from such ethereal matters as devotion or faith—at least when it comes to scientific evidence.

At the turn of the 20th century, a poorly educated Hindu man, living in near-poverty in an Indian slum, insisted his mathematical theories were based on divinity, not proof, and yet were absolute certainties. The Western world of academia was turned on its ear. This is the compelling true story behind The Man Who Knew Infinity, a marvelously smart and inspirational film that has finally made its way to Boise after debuting last September at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film was warmly received following its premiere but was soon followed by industry buzz questioning if movie-goers would embrace a film with math as its centerpiece.

Tagging a film "smart" may not help its box office revenues, but audiences and critics championed 2014's The Theory of Everything, featuring Eddie Redmayne's Oscar-winning portrayal of Stephen Hawking. To that end, the following conclusion is a simple one: If you liked The Theory of Everything, it's a good bet you'll have equal affection for The Man Who Knew Infinity, which just as masterfully weaves a story of intelligence and passion.

"To Srinivasa Ramanujan, mathematics was an art form, a way of expressing himself. He called it, 'Painting without colors,'" Dev Patel, who plays Ramanujan, told Boise Weekly at the TIFF premiere. "But what made him different was that he believed his math was a blessing from God."

Patel's performance is his best since his 2008 turn in Slumdog Millionaire, which launched his film and TV career, earning him roles in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (and its sequel) and HBO's The Newsroom.

"But The Man Who Knew Infinity gave me a role with some pretty big shoes to fill," Patel said."I've been floating this story around for about 10 years with Matt [Brown]. We've been working on this for a while."

Writer/director Brown paced nervously on the red carpet before the premiere.

"Professor John Littlewood of Cambridge once said, 'Miracles happen about once a month.' Well, getting this film done has been a bit of a miracle," said Brown. "Yes, math is a big part of this film, but the human story is what was most important. All the other aspects were subtext."

Littlewood (played by Toby Jones) was among the first to welcome Ramanujan to pursue his mathematical studies at Cambridge in 1913.

"Don't be intimidated," Littlewood tells the overwhelmed Ramanujan. "Great knowledge comes from the humblest of origins."

Eventually, Ramanujan teamed up with much older, legendary mathematician G.H. Hardy (a wonderful performance from Jeremy Irons) and together, they changed math forever: from fractions to number theories to... infinity. The two continuously clashed when Hardy, a devout atheist, regularly challenged Ramanujan, who insisted his only "proof" came from divine intervention.

"I don't believe in God," Hardy says. "I just don't believe in anything I can't prove."

"Then you can't believe in me," responds Ramanujan.

Ultimately though, their belief in one another made history. In one scene, Hardy mumbles that his taxicab number, 1729, is "rather dull," and he hoped it wasn't "an unfavorable omen." Ramanujan reminds Hardy that 1729 is a very good number.

"It is the smallest number that is expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways," says Ramanujan. To this day, 1729 is known as the Hardy/Ramanujan number.

Different numbers—this time musical ones—are abundant in Born to Be Blue, which chronicles the tumultuous life of trumpeter extraordinaire Chet Baker and is the latest in a string of musical biopics. Fresh off the heels of Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams in I Saw the Light and Don Cheadle as Miles Davis in Miles Ahead, Ethan Hawke plays Baker, who writer/director Robert Budreau presents as a sad but sweet soul—guitarist Herb Ellis used to say Baker "could always find the sweet notes." However, Baker is also portrayed as a narcissistic, drug-addled fragile dreamer, destined for prison and an early grave. As per usual, Hawke winds himself tightly into his role, with extra emphasis on melancholy.

Sadness aside, the scenes of Baker's debut at New York City's Birdland, performing with Miles Davis (portrayed by Kedar Brown), and Baker's vocal performance of "My Funny Valentine" are are well worth the price of admission.

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