Mathematics in Film

I’ve ventured into two mathematical films recently – Proof (2005) and Dark Matter (2007).

Proof is the story of Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow), a daughter of a schizophrenic (?) mathematician Robert (Anthony Hopkins), who allegedly writes a brilliant paradigm-shifting proof then hides it away out of fear of… success? Becoming her father? It’s based on David Auburn’s play, and I did a side-by-side analysis of the movie vs. play for English class. It’s about 90% on target with the play, and the dialogue is almost word-for-word. The question of, did she really write the proof or was it her father, is presented in both. Auburn has stated the true outcome of the story, but if you want to decide for yourself, I suggest first reading the play then watching the movie before reading his commentary.

Dark Matter, based on a actual events, follows Liu Xing (Ye Liu), a Chinese student in America who is studying cosmology at Valley State University and has a passion for dark matter. He is Carl Sagan reminiscent in the way he describes the Universe and how the mystery substance fits in. But this movie isn’t about a dreamer who grabs the Nobel Prize or some other honor for a great discovery. It’s about a passion that is betrayed, and in the end, “dark matter” takes on an very different connotation. Subtle symbolism in the background of a few scenes along the way helps to reinforce dialogue and events. It’s important to understand the true story and how the movie shaped it differently. That side and other opinions can be read at Peter Woit’s Not Even Wrong blog. Woit is a mathematical physicist at Columbia University. Here is an interview with him at Big Think.

For math-themed stories in print, check out Mathematical Fiction.

Here are several links to mathematical movie lists:

Mathematics in the Movies
Math in the Movies
Math and the Movies Resource List
My Math Movie Picks
Mathematics Goes to the Movies

I’d be interested in mathematical movies that have flown under the radar, so if anyone has some suggestions, please post them.

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