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Review: Adventures of a Mathematician

— by BEV QUESTAD —

“The Adventures of a Mathematician” is based on the autobiography of a Polish-Jewish scientist, Stanislaw Ulam, who refused to go to that fateful atomic test in the hot July desert south of Los Alamos in 1945. Already arguing with Edward Teller regarding the feasibility of the atom bomb, Stanislaw Ulam was also wrestling with the morality of creating a force not just capable of destroying entire military bases, but entire cities full of civilians.

The moral question of creating an atomic bomb, with the eventual capability of ending life as we know it, was the second thought hovering over the minds of Ulam and the Los Alamos crew. The first thought was to build it before Hitler did. Many of the scientists involved in the project were Jews whose families were in desperate jeopardy in Europe. A bomb of this magnitude would surely bring Hitler insurmountable, unbeatable power. He must be stopped.

The fire to master such a destructive force waned after Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 7, 1945, 7 days after Hitler took cyanide and shot himself to death.

Still spurred by J. Robert Oppenheimer, the head of the Los Alamos Laboratory, Ulam and the other scientists were able to get the atom bomb ready and tested 2 months later. Three weeks after that President Truman authorized its use, not on a naval shipyard, military command center or Emperor Hirohito’s palace, but above a hospital in the center of Hiroshima, a manufacturing city.

When Ulam and his group of scientists heard the news of the bomb’s successful mission in a conference room, instead of raucous cheering, there was a silence and then a quiet leaving.

“Adventures of a Mathematician,” a German-Polish-British co-production, was adapted from Ulam’s autobiography, written in 1976. The screenplay was written by Thor Klein, based in Berlin, Germany, who is also the director.

Klein has taken a complex story and created a gripping narrative of this complex time in history. He used long takes to provide a continuum, scaffolding a foreboding, dark mental conflict.

Polish-French actor Philippe Tlokinski plays Ulam with exceptional sensitivity, able to dance and party with a subtle, troubled eye. His remarkably impeccable English makes him easily understood, in comparison to the lovely Esther Garrel, who plays Ulam’s wife. Unfortunately, her low voice and heavy French accent masked almost all of her words. But to her credit, her acting was so strong that viewers can get the gist of her meaning.

Recommended for its thoughtful contribution to science and the conflicts surrounding the development of nuclear warheads, Thor Klein’s “Adventures of a Mathematician” is a must-see.



Credits

Director: Thor Klein
Screenplay: Thor Klein
Cast: Joel Basman, Esther Garrel, Philippe Tlokinski, Sam Keeley, Ryan Gage, Fabian Kociecki and Sabin Tambrea
Wide Release: Oct. 1, 2021 [select theaters and Digital and VOD platforms]
Official Film Website: http://www.samuelgoldwynfilms.com/adventures-of-a-mathematician/

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