The Coen Brothers focused an entire film around the Uncertainty Principle in Quantum Mechanics. In A Serious Man Prof. Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) teaches his classes the principle, but desperately wants to believe, despite the equation, that life makes sense. It’s not a movie about wave-particle duality and the DeBroglie hypothesis—it’s a very human story about a man searching for answers—but the math is crucial to the story.
The same holds true for Moneyball, the new Brad Pitt movie opening this weekend. The story of a baseball team’s general manager who uses algorithms and computer-generated analysis called sabermetrics to draft his players isn’t strictly about the math, but the story wouldn’t be the same without it.
A Beautiful Mind shows how mathematician John Nash, played by Russell Crowe in the role that won him an Oscar, would visualize math problems in order to identify patterns and solve equations.
The Hangover uses a similar trick. At a Las Vegas casino Alan (Zach Galifianakis) counts cards at a blackjack table as mathematical equations appear on the screen. In reality none of the equations—like the Fourier theory of additive synthesis—have anything to do with cheating at cards, but it’s a funny scene that inspired the facebook page “Alan from The Hangover makes math seem AWESOME.”
A love poem called The Square Root of Three appears in the raunchy comedy Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. “I fear that I will always be a lonely number, like root three,” writes the lovelorn Kumar (Kal Penn), “A three is all that’s good and right. Why must my three keep out of sight?”
The Da Vinci Code famously uses the Fibonacci sequence—1 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 5 – 8 – 13 – 21— as a key to unlock the movie’s mystery and Cube sees people trapped in a giant cube with mathematic problems as clues to their salvation.
The John Astin comedy Evil Roy Slade features some frontier math. Schoolteacher Betsy asks Roy, “If you had six apples and your neighbor took three of them what would you have?”
“A dead neighbor and all six apples,” he replies.
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