Rites of Love and Math…

…and boinking. This, perhaps, is what I would’ve named the independent film Rites of Love and Math in order to diffuse some of the pomp.

For those of you who have not heard, Rites of Love and Math is an independent film starring a mathematician, and is inspired by the 1966 Japanese short film Yukoku (which can be seen in its entirety here; the standard Wikipedia synopsis is here). This Japanese film depicts an army lieutenant who knows he will be ordered to execute his friends after a failed coup d’état; in order to avoid this fate, he and his wife commit ritual suicide together, after making sweet love one final time.

If you ask how something could be inspired both by this film and mathematics, Rites of Love and Math is your answer. This mathematical interpretation, which premiered at the Berkeley Film and Video Festival late last year, replaces the protagonist’s military background with a mathematical one, but the same general story points are still hit. The mathematician engages in some hanky panky with his lady friend, then tattoos a mathematical formula on her body before he kills himself.  Here is a trailer for the film (watch out, it is NSFW, unless your workplace loves looking at the derrieres of the mathematically inclined):

Based on this article from the East Bay express, it seems like the mathematician and star of the film has his heart in the right place (based on the above trailer, this may not be the only part of his body in the right place).  But even though I haven’t seen any footage beyond what the trailer provides, I’m more than a little wary about endorsing an erotic short film as the best way to illustrate the beauty of mathematics.  On the one hand, Professor Edward Frenkel says things I can relate to.  Consider, for example, the following passage from the above article:”‘Intelligent people would never say, “I don’t care about art, or music,”‘ [Frankel] lamented. ‘But it is totally okay to say, “I hate math.”‘”  Indeed, the beauty of mathematics is difficult for outsiders to appreciate, and mathematicians could do a better job trying to explain some of that beauty to a wider audience.

Frankel also seems to share my disdain for the way mathematicians are typically portrayed in film:

In most of the three or so popular movies about math, Frenkel says, “a mathematician is on the verge of a mental illness.”

“Young people who see these films, they ask, ‘Do I really want to be like this guy, or this woman?’” I was trying to create a film in which there would be a mathematician, but he would be very different from what one would expect.”

Right.  Well, there’s no better way than to play against the stereotype of mathematicians as crazy than by having them tattoo math formulas on the naked body of a woman they’ve just slept with, and then kill themselves.  I mean, I get that it’s supposed to be a metaphor, but really?  I think we’ve got much more work to do before we can allow ourselves that level of abstraction.  How about making a film with a mathematician who’s just a normal guy first?  We could watch him shop for groceries, or go to a concert or something.  Or, even better, we could have a female mathematician do these things.

I can’t unequivocally call this a swing and a miss without having seen the film, but at the very least, things don’t look good.  Then again, maybe I’ve got everything twisted, and rather than working on this blog, I should be making erotic films.

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