Human nature pushes us to go towards what we love and away from what we hate. This is possibly why the hate of mathematics – which is pretty much a universal science, so to speak – is a phenomenon that crosses the boundaries of race and nation with the exact same passion. Students everywhere seem to hate it, and a large part of adults don’t see the point of all that stuff they were forced to learn in school. But, if we think about it logically, maths is a the basis of most sciences and engineering, which in turn designs and, well, engineers a very large part of pretty much everything we use, ranging from computers to frying pans. So why, asks Olivier Peyon, do we hate it to the point of almost taking a pride in hating it?
Peyon follows a number of mathematicians, we watch them going about their daily lives, participating in events worldwide mathematical import… As we follow them, they explain to us what they love about maths, why it probably is that the rest of us hate the field, and why, in the last 40 years or so, maths has become more essential to our lives than we may ever have imagined…
Of course the main difficulty of documentary filmmaking is the selection of the subject matter. Unlike fiction, where the world portrayed can be created and moulded, when portraying the real world, engaging the audience depends largely on whether or not you have selected an engaging part of the real world. The personalities selected in the documentary play a large part in this; and I have to say in this case the choices are truly extraordinary. They range from Fields Medal winner (one of the greatest honours mathematics can bestow on an academic, on a par with the Nobel prize) Cedric Villani who, with his cravats and diamante spider brooches would look perfectly at home in a steampunk novel to celebrated applied mathematician Eitan Grispun who, with his t shirt decorated with comic book characters, explains how applied maths actually applies to real life (and without any spoilers, at the end of his explanation, there lies a truly Oh WOW moment). And while the range of character types is quite great, one thing they have in common without any doubt, is passion. As they explain and defend their chosen field, eyes sparkling, I defy anyone to not wish, if only for a moment, that you had a maths teacher like this.
And after engaging us with truly passionate if slightly off the wall personalities, How I Came to Hate Maths makes its place in our consciousness even firmer by truly tying the seemingly abstract concepts discussed in the first half of the film into day to day life. As you can imagine we are now in the domain of economy and crises and the very tricky field of commerce which is mathematical tools that are for sale these days for the savvy investor. And if you cannot picture a mathematical tool or indeed, how one might sell it, you may want to watch this documentary. The answer is a lot more interesting than you might think.
This documentary is, in short, an opportunity given to the most hated lesson of the high school curriculum to stand up and defend itself. The result is not only a rather extraordinary piece of filmmaking but a chance to; maybe not start loving maths, but definitely starting appreciating it.
“My French Film Festival” is a unique film festival held online. It will run between Jan 16th and Feb 16th and you can access all the films and find out more at myfrenchfilmfestival.com