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Movie Review: Proof

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Proof of the Pythagorean Variety

I assumed, of course, this was a suspense thriller, a la Cher and Dennis Quaid’s Suspect.The “proof” of the title would (in my muddled mind) be the kind admitted into evidence. I was corrected almost immediately as the tortured face of Gwyneth Paltrow filled the screen alongside scribbled notes of pi and If then{}s. She’s spent the past five years caring for her one time groundbreaking math genius of a father, Robert. Anthony Hopkins plays the not just over-the-hill math wizard. Note the unthinking use of the term “wizard” to denote the mathematically gifted. Odd that a science so deeply imbedded in everything that is should appear so mysterious and otherworldly to the larger swath of the population. Music is so closely aligned with math that once upon a not too distant time they were conjoined. The Music of the Spheres is a book by a friend that delineates the Age of Reason’s effort to divorce music from mathematics. All is math, of course, from planetary motion to the morning commute. Efforts to isolate math have rather more served to impoverish than clarify or enrich. But I digress.

Ms. Paltrow delivers a stunningly powerful and pained performance worthy of her immense and ever growing talent. Her counterpoint is Catherine’s lighter than air sister, Claire, played by the mercurial Hope Davis. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a balanced performance as a hopeful wizard wanna-be, digging through the sisters dads’ papers. Robert flits about the margins as the film takes place shortly after his death, but when he alights it is to punch out an indelible image of fear and trembling at a once brilliant mind teetering on the brink of blathering. Madness and mathematics will forever be linked in mainstream filmdom by the brilliant A Beautiful Mind and in the less tarvelled parabolas of filmdom by the dense and inspired Pi. Ultimately, Proof is not so much about math as it is about mathematicians, their sadness, their loyalty, their, and our struggle to sort out the chaff from the substantive. Brilliant acting in an even brighter script about the dark and cowering terror that seems to haunt the math genius gene.

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