Sunday, 20 February 2011

Fermat's Room

Watched this with The Other Half last night, since I figured something billed as a mathematical horror film would be just the thing for us.

It's certainly an interesting curiosity.  Good films about mathematicians are hard to come by (and no, A Beautiful Mind doesn't count), and this manages to succeed, at least for a little while.  Not only does the main characters' preening, arrogant approach ring true, the differences in their philosophies works too - "Galois" and "Hilbert" are obsessed with the beauty of theory for theory's sake, but "Pascal" sees no point in anything without direct practical application ("Oliva" is just there to be pretty, so far as I can see).  There is also some fun to be had in trying to solve the various riddles they come across faster than the characters can themselves (though none are particularly difficult, and they get less interesting as the film goes on), and that works even better because you're trying to solve those small mysteries whilst simultaneously trying to put together the pieces of the larger puzzle: why are these four people trapped in a room together?

Ultimately, though, that's where the film comes apart.  The film can't maintain it's internal logic.  The solution (or at least one distinctly plausible solution) to their predicament is obvious given the tools at their disposal and the eventual explanation of their predicament.  We've seen this in plenty of other horror films, of course (though in truth Fermat's Room should be more fairly considered a thriller) - we've all shouted "Why don't you just....!" at the screen at some point or other.  What makes this so deeply frustrating here though is that the whole film is about how these people are ruthlessly logical problem-solving machines.  They don't get to come down with a case of the third-act stupids.

Unless, of course, the implicit idea is that mathematicians are, for all their imagination and/or processing power, completely fucking useless.  In which case fair point, I guess.

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