Adventures of a Mathematician
by Rachel Willis
Adventures of a Mathematician, based on the memoir of the same name by Stanislav Ulam (Philippe Tłokiński), offers a fascinating look at one of the main players behind the Manhattan Project and the building of the hydrogen bomb.
Writer/director Thor Klein lacks interest in Ulam’s entire life, instead narrowing his film’s focus to the years the scientist spent in Los Alamos, Nevada, working for the U.S. Department of War. The moral and ethical dilemma of building the atomic bomb – the use of science to wield total destruction – is the heart of Klein’s film.
Aspects of Ulam’s world outside of his work are woven into the film – primarily his relationships with wife Françoise (Esther Garrel), brother Adam (Mateusz Więcławek), and best friend/fellow scientist John van Neumann (Fabian Kociecki).
The movie’s weakest component is the flatness of some of these characters, but because Klein seeks not to simply tell Ulam’s life story, the shallow characters don’t sink the effort. They still serve a purpose as they give voice to the ethical arguments inside Ulam.
In that role, Tłokińksi is flawless, bringing depth to every scene. He infuses every word, every movement with the emotion necessary to tackle such large moral quandaries.
The desolate, dusty landscape of Los Alamos plays its own role in the film – a stark reminder of what’s at stake. The film’s minimal score highlights the scientist’s inner conflict and heightens tensions as the movie draws closer to the devastating moment when the bombs are dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Adventures of a Mathematician offers no easy answers, nor is it likely to change anyone’s mind. However, it offers insight into why some of the world’s most brilliant scientists lent their skills to the creation of the deadliest weapons in world history.