PSIFF 2020 Review: Adventures of a Mathematician

The story piqued my interest about the scientists involved, making me want to learn more about them and their projects.
  |   Comments

Based on the autobiography of the same name, writer/director Thor Klein's Adventures of a Mathematiciantells the story of Stanislaw Ulam's time working for the United States government on the Manhattan Project, which produced the first nuclear weapons. Covering about a decade in his life during the 1940s, we meet an intelligent man who deals with matters at a distance, both personal and professional.

In 1941, Stanislaw (Philippe Tlokinski), or “Stan” by those close to him, is a Polish mathematician teaching in the United States at Harvard. His younger brother Adam (Mateusz Wieclawek). They are both concerned about their family back home dealing with the Nazi occupation. Thanks to Stan's friend and colleague John von Neumann (Fabian Kociecki), he has an opportunity to join the Manhattan Project, which is tasked with building the first nuclear weapons. He ships his brother off to family in New York City and takes to New Mexico with him Fran├žoise (Esther Garrel), a French woman he met at a party that he marries after a quick courtship, though the proposal seems more motivated in keeping her from returning to Europe rather than any romantic feelings.

Brought to work on the bombs, Stan butts heads with his supervisors because he doesn't think the devices should even be built due to the destruction they can cause. It's a position he holds after the birth of his daughter, which appears to have changed his frame of reference.

Stan is practical to a fault, which usually leads to keeping his emotions in check. It doesn't make good for connections with the people in his life nor with the audience as his character comes off distant and hard to connect with. It may be an accurate portrayal but doesn't make for the best drama. Stan gets emotional towards the end of the movie after he experiences a loss and tries to repair relationships. The scene between he and Adam is revealing. The pacing of the story contributes to the distance as the story jumps forward through the decade to different moments in his life. Stan and those around him had so much going on that a movie running less than two hours doesn't feel like enough time to cover it all.

Those issues aside, Adventures of a Mathematician gets a lot right. The cast did a wonderful bringing these characters to life. The story piqued my interest about the scientists involved, making me want to learn more about them and their projects, and there wasn't too much jargon to confuse a novice like myself. Klein, cinematographer Tudor Vladimir Panduru, production designer Florian Kaposi and their teams create a look that seems both authentic to the times while also modern for the characters as they experienced it. For those curious, the movie is worth seeking out

Follow Us