Several movies featuring brilliant mathematicians have been made over the years. The lead characters of these films have been mostly portrayed as quirky geniuses or troubled math legends. Such movies often depict the field of mathematics as an exclusive area of endeavor.
Other characters in these films are shown as lacking even the basic knowledge of mathematics. This creates some sort of a barrier to mathematics as a subject. People get the impression that only a select few can be good at math. This subject, in fact, is for everyone.
One need not be a reclusive person lost in concepts and formulas for gaining expertise in this field. Here we’ll take a look at some of the films that portrayed mathematicians in different ways:
1. A Beautiful Mind
This movie features Russell Crowe in the role of John Nash. It was based on the true story of a renowned mathematician and Nobel Prize winner. The protagonist is depicted in the film as a troubled individual who finds it difficult to adjust to the society. He succumbs to psychosis, weighed down by his own genius.
2. Good Will Hunting
In this movie, Matt Damon plays the character of a genius mathematician called Will Hunting. The mathematician runs into trouble with the law. Ben Affleck plays the role of his friend, who is one of the foil characters. This friend is illiterate when it comes to math and the film portrays such an individual as ‘normal’. Will Hunting enters the world of academia through his job as a janitor.
3. The Imitation Game
Yet another barrier-breaking movie, The Imitation Game portrays Benedict Cumberbatch as the mathematician, Alan Turing. This is a biographical film based on the life and work of the famous cryptographer and mathematician. The movie is critical of the society that accepts only the professional achievements and contributions of the mathematician.
It refuses to accept who he is as a person. Turing was a gay and the film shows the tragic events he encountered. Alan Turing had to undergo immense struggle against a highly intolerant society. The Imitation Game shows this in a brilliant way.
4. Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures is about three black women mathematicians working for NASA. It features Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae. Their characters are based on real women and their situations. It does take some liberties with the accuracy of historical events. Despite this, the film breaks barriers and also dispels some stereotypical notions.
Another film about a woman mathematician, Proof has an excellent plot. Gwyneth Paltrow plays the role of a woman mathematician called Catherine. The movie also features male mathematicians and all of them work towards solving a difficult proof. Although Catherine has made a breakthrough on the proof, it is the men who take the credit. The audience comes to know about this fact as the plot unfolds.
Sean Gullette plays the role of Max Cohen, a math genius, in this film. He develops a debilitating psychosis and eventually lobotomizes himself. This is a compelling movie that has some disturbing undertones. It is undoubtedly a negative representation of a genius mathematician.