Last night saw the final screening in the Maths at the Movies season for 2009. An almost full-house were treated to a rare cinema showing of N is a Number George Csicsery’s classic documentary portrait of Hungarian mathematican Paul Erdös. This was followed by a discussion of all three films in the series and how mathematicians are percieved by the media in general.
Panellists Andrew J Wilson and Tim Johnson were united in their opinion of The Oxford Murders as a slight murder mystery within a caricature of the mathematical community. By contrast 21 was considered a much better piece of work, in terms of storytelling, realistic character portrayal and mathematical content. The probabilistic approach to “gambling maths” in 21 led to comparison with the current financial crisis and a fine exposition from Tim on how the banks got it wrong – by misidentifying the process of mathematics as an absolute solution.
Many a mathmatician is disappointed in the regular depiciton of eccentricity, and sometimes madness as a prerequiste for mathematical ability. This issue was addressed by Andrew, saying that the nature of dramatic narrative requires something out of the ordinary to create a story. However, we should not lose sight of the supporting cast of mathematicians who populate these films. From pure fiction to documentary, they constitute the background of normality against which the eccentric character’s tale is told.
The audience participation was lively, well-informed and wide ranging, exploring maths education, mainstream film and television portrayals of science and maths and finally throwing up some novel ideas for scripts.
This event was a successful end to a successful season of mathematical films and talks at the 21st Edinburgh International Science Festival. ICMS thanks all those who made it so – Filmhouse and Festival staff, speakers, panellists and event chairs, sponsors and, most of all, the audiences.
See http://www.icms.org.uk/activities/mathsmovies for backround information.