Happy Square Root Day! 7 Movies About Math Geniuses
This April 4th is the fourth day of the fourth month of 2016 a.k.a. Square Root Day! (Crib note: Four times four is…16!) While algebra and trigonometry are often reviled by high-school students, Hollywood has proven that a numbers whiz often makes for a fascinating film subject. So brush up on your computation skills with these seven movies about math geniuses.
Needing fast cash to pay for med school, MIT senior Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) falls in with Professor Rosa’s (Kevin Spacey) blackjack group, traveling to Vegas to count cards and win big. After Ben gets a caught by a casino security officer (Laurence Fishburne), he cuts a deal that sets up Rosa as the house’s big fish.
2. A Beautiful Mind
John Nash (Russell Crowe) is an extraordinarily gifted mathematician who dazzles the eggheads at Princeton with a game theory concept that lands him a job at MIT. Nash, however, is soon drawn into the world of espionage, working as a cryptographer for the Pentagon. Or maybe not; when Nash is diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, the movie reveals that the secret-agent plot is all in his head.
3. Good Will Hunting
Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a mathematical savant, works as a janitor at MIT but can’t help solving the “impossible” algebraic equations that Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) leaves on the blackboard. Impressed, Lambeau sets up a number of upwardly mobile job opportunities for Will, as well as a meeting with a kind-hearted therapist (Robin Williams) who winds up serving as his mentor.
Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) seems like any other nebbishy New Yorker, except that the numbers dancing in his head appear to predict the future. Such singular insight comes at a steep price, including the unwanted attentions of a Wall Street shark (Pamela Hart), who wants to use his powers to play the stock market, and an overbearing Kabbalist (Ben Shenkman) who thinks Max has found a secret link to God.
5. Real Genius
Star physics students Chris (Val Kilmer) and Mitch (Gabe Jarret) definitely need math on their side as they scramble to build a high-powered laser for their pompous Professor Hathaway (William Ahterton). When they discover the laser is to be used for an assassination, they rig the military’s computers to aim it at Hathaway’s house, which they have filled with Jiffy Pop. Genius!
6. The Imitation Game
The Enigma machine, used by Nazis in World War II to encrypt messages, was believed to be indecipherable — until Mi6 recruited Cambridge superstar Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to crack the code. While his victory marks the birth of the modern computer age, Turing’s work comes to a tragic end after he is convicted of homosexual “indecency,” which ultimately leads to his suicide.
7. The Theory of Everything
This biopic follows theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) from his early days at Cambridge, where he wrote his thesis on black holes while grappling with ALS. Though the disease cripples his body and renders him unable to speak without computer assistance, Hawking’s mind remains intact — a humbling inspiration.
Now let’s move on to geometry with our picks for the best ’80s flicks about bizarre love triangles.