Watch Out for The Secret Number

I would like to offer my somewhat reserved congratulations to the helmers of the upcoming film project titled The Secret Number, whose Kickstarter project ended today having exceeded its fundraising goal of $10,000 (I’ll also point out that this isn’t the first time Kickstarter has made an appearance on this blog).  The film, a senior thesis for director Colin Levy, is based on a short story of the same name, and is the reason behind my inclusion of the word “reserved” in the sentence above.  By way of introduction, please take a look at the filmmakers’ fundraising video:

As you can see, the story centers around a mathematician who claims to have discovered an integer between 3 and 4.  Forgetting the mathematical particulars for a moment, the source material worries me, mostly because the mathematician featured in the story has been hospitalized following a nervous breakdown brought on by his work (if you have a chance, I’d encourage you to read the story for yourself – the whole thing comes in at under 2,000 words).  Do we really need another film exploring the psyche of the brilliant but frail mathematical mind?

Regarding the mathematical content itself, that frustrates me a little bit in the same way that a film like Pi frustrates me.  Often times, the lack of mathematical understanding is used to create a false illusion of mystery.  There isn’t really anything interesting about the question “What if there was an integer between 3 and 4?” in the same way that there isn’t really anything interesting about the question “What if bananas tasted like apples?”  It’s not as if there is a lack of open mathematical questions that even the layperson could understand (think of the twin prime conjecture, for example, or Goldbach’s conjecture) and which might supply the necessary mystique without sacrificing mathematical authenticity.  Of course I realize this is not a problem unique to mathematics – any specialist will likely find fault with a film focusing on that specialty.  Some faults are more apparent than others, however, and the potential for a misstep when working with this source material seems quite large.

Hopefully this film will eschew the use of the slinky.

Nevertheless, kudos to the filmmakers for exceeding their fundraising goal.  To have a student film budget in excess of $10,000 is quite a feat, and the publicity from their campaign can’t hurt either.  I look forward to seeing their final product, and I hope they can avoid the cliches that so frequently arise when telling these types of stories.  Only time will tell.  I will admit, though, that some of the production art is pretty slick.

(Hat tip to Meg for sending a link to this project my way.)

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