Like an algebra test on a sunny summer day, “The Man Who Knew Infinity” seems, at first glance, to be more of a chore than a pleasure. That’s a miscalculation, however. There’s a giant heart to the movie and a message about breaking down barriers of bigotry that will make your summer popcorn movie-weary heart sing.
Available starting Tuesday on Blu-ray, DVD and streaming services, the British drama inspired by a real story features Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) as Srinivasa Ramanujan, a math genius in 1913 colonial India who grasps the poetry and grace of numbers. He’s determined to share his groundbreaking theories with the world, even if it means a lengthy separation from his homeland and new bride.
Enter G.H. Hardy, a British math scholar played by Jeremy Irons (“Batman v Superman”) who receives a letter from Ramanujan and brings him to Cambridge’s Trinity College without really understanding what the young outsider will face once he arrives. Everything from the culturally oblivious dining hall menu to the academic establishment’s snobbery toward a self-taught person of color is an obstacle for Ramanujan. Even Hardy, with his blinders to the human side of the situation, is hardly the warmest of allies.
The rest of the story — the prejudice aimed at Ramanujan, and the journey to understanding taken by Hardy and the rest of his scholarly colleagues — may sound rote, but Patel and Irons bring a beautiful restraint to their complicated relationship. And director/screenwriter Matthew Brown finds ways to convey Ramanujan’s passion for advanced mathematics that anyone can comprehend.
In a campaign season where “extreme vetting” is being floated as an immigration strategy, “The Man Who Knew Infinity” reminds us that the only equations that make sense are the ones that include a spirit of shared humanity.