“In popular films, mathematicians are usually portrayed as weirdos and social misfits on the verge of mental illness, reinforcing the stereotype of mathematics as a boring and cold subject, far removed from reality.”
And yet, contrary to this stereotype, Frenkel sees mathematical research as a great love story. In fact, Frenkel, who is one of the leading mathematical physicists in the world, makes math look sexy. In 2010, Frenkel made a short film called “Rites of Love and Math” with the French filmmaker Reine Graves.
The film features a mathematician tattooing a formula on the body of a woman he loves. “The tattoo scene in the film was meant to represent the passion involved in doing mathematical research,” Frenkel writes. “While he is making the tattoo, the Mathematician completely shuts himself off from the world. To him, the formula really becomes a question of life and death.”
This is the formula as it appears in the film:
Frenkel says this formula would seem forbidding if he had written it on a blackboard. “But seeing it in the form of a tattoo elicited a totally different reaction,” he writes. “It really got under everyone’s skin: everyone wanted to know what it meant.”
In the video below, Frenkel explains how he set out to present math on a “visceral and emotional, intuitive level,” and also entertains the question of whether there is a formula of love. “Actually every formula we discover is a formula of love,” Frenkel says. “And that’s because these formulas represent something deep and fundamental about the world.”
Watch the video here:
Watch the official trailer for “Rites of Love and Math” here.
To watch the entire film online or order a DVD, visit http://ritesofloveandmath.com/