Two beautiful mathematical documentaries are “Fermat’s Last Theorem” and “Dangerous Knowledge”. Both take a popular science style approach to describing compelling and emotional stories about great mathematicians.
The first narrates the story of Andrew Wiles, who proved Fermat’s last theorem in 1994. It’s a relatively short documentary, coming in at about 45 minutes, but I find it to be both inspiring and a nice aid to better understanding Andrew “as a person”, before thinking of him as a superb mathematician. This documentary is based on Simon Singh’s excellent book
Fermat’s Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve the World’s Greatest Mathematical Problem.
The second documentary focuses on the obsessive quest for knowledge shared by Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing. The basic idea behind “Dangerous Knowledge” is that the genius of these outstanding mathematicians and their obsession ultimately lead to their madness and tragic deaths. In truth, I feel that the underlying thread that tries to tie the four stories together is forced.
For example, Alan Turing was persecuted for his homosexuality, and it is believed that this had a significant impact on his eventual suicide. The filmmakers are trying to lead the viewers to come to the certain conclusion that the quest for understanding infinity is what led these mathematicians to insanity, which is entirely unsupported. Nevertheless, if you’re aware of the agenda behind this film, you’ll get a beautiful 1h 29m documentary that is absolutely worth watching. It poses interesting questions about the nature of knowledge, our understanding of nature, and other puzzling dilemmas that encompass mathematics, physics and philosophy.
What other mathematical documentaries are you fond of? If various titles are suggested, we could definitely start a nice must-watch math documentary list here on Math-Blog.com.