Film Review: Adventures of a Mathematician

Stan Ulam at work

Like many Jews from Eastern Europe, Stan Ulam got a job and eventually emigrated to America during the 1930s. He was employed by Harvard University as an academic, working on ergodic theory when not teaching mathematics. Ulam was invited to join the Manhattan Project and was one of the team working on the atomic bomb. As was the case with most of his peers, the Pole was conflicted about working on such a destructive weapon. Adventures of a Mathematician tells his story.

After leaving family and friends behind and moving permanently to America with his younger brother (Mateusz Wieclawek), Stan Ulam (Philippe Tlokinski) works as a maths teacher and enjoys the social life on campus. When he’s invited to work on a mysterious project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, by his best friend Johnny von Neumann (Fabian Kociecki), he jumps at the chance. Taking a French woman (Esther Garrel), he hastily marries, with him.

Adventures of a Mathematician is a fascinating biopic which charts Ulam’s time in America, focusing on his work of solving the problem of nuclear propulsion on rockets and the strain this placed on his personal life. The anguish of leaving people behind is often overlooked, but Thor Klein’s film approaches the man as a whole. It’s is a touch dry at times, but the period detail is impressively done. The cast are excellent and in Adventures of a Mathematician we get to understand the perspective of someone else who worked on the Manhattan Project.

Adventures of a Mathematician is released in select US cinemas, on digital and VOD platforms on 1 October.

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