TIFF may be over, but Toronto’s annual film fest is a precursor of what’s to come in theatres — and what’s worth keeping an eye out for. Amidst the red-carpet premieres, powerful world cinema, action-packed thrillers and art-house films that leave you sort of confused, here are five film picks for those who love science, math and technology.
The Man Who Knew Infinity
This inspiring biopic is based on the life of Srinivasa Ramanujan (played by Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel), a self-taught mathematics genius from Madras, India, who arrived at Cambridge University in 1914 with some rather radical ideas. Ultimately, his contributions to number theory, continued fractions and infinite series revolutionized the field of mathematics. Along with lots of math, the film weaves in still-relevant issues of racism and the power of friendship. Critics have said one of the greatest feats of this film is its ability to make complex mathematical theories understandable to the layperson.
Eye in the Sky
Helen Mirren plays military intelligence officer Colonel Katherine Powell, who remotely commands a secret drone operation out of London to capture a radicalized British citizen who joins a Somali terrorist group, Al Shabab, in Nairobi, Kenya. The “capture” mission turns to a “kill” mission when Powell learns Al Shabab is planning suicide attacks. But when the drone operator — an American based in Nevada — reports that a nine-year-old girl has entered the kill zone, it raises questions of collateral damage. This darkly comedic thriller takes a timely look at modern warfare and the implications of using technology to target an enemy remotely — halfway around the world.
While Ridley Scott’s epic space thriller has a Hollywood-studded cast (like Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels), it is also being lauded for its scientific accuracy. The story follows NASA astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) who struggles to survive after being stranded on Mars. Watney, a botanist-engineer, has to rely on science to help him survive the inhospitable Red Planet with limited resources (like duct tape). This action-packed film, based on the 2011 best-selling novel by Andy Weir, will appeal to anyone interested in aeronautic science (an oxygenator that converts carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen, for example, is based on similar technology that will travel to Mars aboard the Mars 2020 rover).
This frenetic film won’t appeal to everyone. It’s dark, and the characters have few redeeming qualities. Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski takes viewers into the lives of eight characters over the course of the same 11 minutes on a single day in Warsaw. These seemingly unconnected characters and events all come together in one shocking, spectacular climax. What’s interesting, though, is the pre-credit prologue, which uses footage from a smartphone, webcam, camcorder and CCTV surveillance camera to set an agitated, panicked tone right at the start of the film. Ultimately, this story extends beyond Warsaw; it’s relatable to anyone who feels that modern technology and surveillance is changing the narrative of our lives.
Return of the Atom
This is a documentary, but it’s also a comedy of errors — a dark one, at that. Filmed over more than a decade by Mika Taanila and Jussi Eerola, it chronicles events after a remote Finnish island was selected as the site of the first nuclear power plant in the West following the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. What was meant to usher in an age of eco-friendly nuclear power turned into a decade of oversight and mismanagement, skyrocketing costs and plenty of finger pointing. For anyone who’s worked on a large project with multiple stakeholders, it’s a good lesson on what can go wrong when egos get in the way of great ideas and technological progress.