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Why Jeremy Irons Loves Math

Jeremy Irons, at the age of 67, has fallen in love with math thanks to his latest role as the brilliant Cambridge mathematician G. H. Hardy in the recently released film “The Man Who Knew Infinity.” In interviews, Irons has spoken about the seemingly paradoxical connection between emotion and pure thought, and abstract thought and numbers. While reading Hardy’s essay, he, a lover of art, realized that you could love the “beauty of mathematics” in the same way.

Hardy was a professor, the founder of the Trinity College Mathematical Society and the author of  “A Mathematician’s Apology.” One morning he opened a letter bulging with handwritten sheets containing various mathematical problems. Brilliant, self-taught mathematician S. A. Ramanujan was seeking his opinion. Based on his usual experience with letters from math lovers, Hardy was almost certain the envelope contained utter nonsense but a close professional relationship arose from that initial letter.

Jeremy Irons
Dev Patel, right, plays the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan and Jeremy Irons as the Cambridge professor G.H. Hardy.


The relationship between Hardy and Ramanujan, based on the latter’s biography, was a made-for-the-movies story and the film’s producers, both mathematicians, immediately recognized its potential. They have even discussed making a second film based on how the memory of Ramanujan was preserved; mathematicians have been fascinated by him since his death. One of those mathematicians is Richard Askey. In 1980 Askey read an interview with the widow of Ramanujan, Janaki Ammal. After Ramanujan died, Ammal was left half-blind, frail, and living in poverty. In the interview, she explained that the government had never honored her husband with a monument. Askey commissioned a statue and wrote a hundred letters to fellow mathematicians around the world to ask for 25 dollars from each to fund the project.

One of the associate producers of the film, Ken Ono, was a troubled teen when his father, a Japanese-American mathematician, received one of those letters about Ramanujan. It was then that Ono began his search for everything related to Ramanujan, up to the point that he reconciled with mathematics. Manjul Bhargava, another associate producer, and mathematician born in Ontario to Indian parents, was in charge of researching the rest of the story.

Ono is a triathlete, and Bhargava loves sport and playing Indian music. They aren’t strange, they aren’t eccentric, they don’t look like mad scientists. They are role models who spread their passion for math – the same passion that Jeremy Irons has now discovered thanks to Hardy. Those who watch this film with their children can talk to them about mathematics; about the need to not lose their curiosity; that talent can be found anywhere – even in a letter from India, from a self-employed autodidact. Parents can also talk about Cambridge, a university that boasts eight centuries of history and bears a profound love of mathematics.

The film provides the perfect opportunity to show kids how to appreciate the process of reasoningwhich closely aligns with the Smartick philosophy!

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