September 30, 2005


In the movie adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Gwyneth Paltrow plays the daughter of a brilliant and insane John Nash-like mathematician (Anthony Hopkins) who worries about which of her father's attributes she inherited, while handsome young U. of Chicago math prof Jake Gyllenhaal tries to get her to notice him. From my review in the upcoming American Conservative:

Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, an affectionate romp through the mathematics of chaos theory, and his Hapgood, an inexplicable explication of quantum mechanics, are the masterpiece and failure, respectively, of the theatre's recent interest in scholars. Other examples include Michael Frayn's Copenhagen, Margaret Edson's Wit, and David Auburn's Proof, a drama about mathematicians that ran for 900 performances on Broadway, a street not previously known for its math-friendliness.

Some critics have derided Proof as "middlebrow" for showing few of the formulas that obsess the main characters. In reality, "middlebrow" is a compliment, since it means a script pitched well above the contemporary average. In the admirable middlebrow tradition, Proof displays a healthy respect for mathematicians and an informative interest in those aspects of their careers that we can comprehend, such as their fear of losing their creativity before they hit 30...

The film version of "Proof," fortunately, is largely lacking in the feminist resentment that has been focused on college math departments since last winter's Larry Summers brouhaha (for instance, all 30 full professors at the U. of Chicago are male). As Gyllenhaal's lovelorn character makes clear, there's nothing the men of mathematics would like more than for beautiful young women to share their passion.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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