Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Professor’s Beloved Equation: Book vs Film: FIGHT!

I don’t read many novels, so it’s still a peculiar experience when I see a film of a book I’ve previously read, not unlike deja vu: I can remember the events but I’ve never seen them before. Also, thinking things like "That house is bigger than I imagined it," is kind of distracting. As such, I tend to avoid watching films of books I already know.

But I was curious as to how the film version of "The Professor’s Beloved Equation" (or "The Housekeeper and the Professor", as the English translation is called) turned out. The story is about a mathematics professor who, through an accident in the 1970s, has a memory that only lasts eighty minutes. A housekeeper (played in the film by Fukatsu Eri) is hired to look after him during the day, and she has to get used to his curious observations about numbers and the fact that he always asks her the same questions each day since it is, for him, the first time they’ve met.

The novel has the luxury of talking about numbers at length. It covers far more topics than the film, and in more playful detail. The film struggles with the uncinematic nature of perfect and imaginary numbers, although the idea of cutting away to an adult version of Root (the housekeeper’s son) explaining some of the theories to a mathematics class was a clever way of getting around this to some extent.

The film is also shot in quite a flat style. The director, for the most part, seems happy to point the camera at the actors and let them tell the story. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I found it lacked the intimacy and emotions that the book had. And although the novel is not long, the film couldn’t fit all the story in, and the poignant last days of the professor are reduced to a single scene of him and the grown-up Root playing catch on the beach.

So the book defeats its well-meaning but distant cinematic version. It displays more love for the characters and the mathematics they discuss than the film does.

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