I love a good story, a good yarn and no more so, than when delivered on the screen. Whether it’s the little screen just the other side of the coffee table laden with Turkish Delight (the real stuff obviously, not that Fry’s rubbish) in the lounge or the big one in the popcorn restaurant, I love to watch a good story being played out.
But lately dear listener I’ve become a trifle irked. Something’s bothering me. I first really noticed it when watching the otherwise excellent series “The Bletchley Circle“. Here we have a group of ladies who now turn their wartime code-breaking, puzzle-solving skills, to the task of solving crime, hunting down murderers and generally making the streets a safer place. We were enticed into this slightly bizarre charade by the prospect of seeing their brilliant intellect at work, watching as they laid out the clues and cross-referenced the points of interests and slowly eradicated the impossible, leaving only the, however unlikely, sole possibility remaining. We were teased with the prospect of complex mathematical models being used to solve the crimes, we were even shown (all but briefly) a wall covered in cards, with red strands of wool forming intricate connections and were led to believe that some clever proposition not immediately self-evident but proven by a chain of reasoning would establish a truth, an outcome.
And some of us were gripped. In any complex system of reference points where cross-referencing is key, Fibonacci was never really likely to make an appearance. But just in case he did, I was poised.
It’s not relevant but you might remember from school that a basic Fibonacci sequence is simply a sequence of numbers where the next number is the sum of the previous two, such as :
13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 etc.
(13+21=34; 21+34=55; 34+55=89; 55+89=144)
And did we get it? Were we treated to an in-depth, elaborate mathematical problem-solving display? No, the whole process was glossed over with the viewer given no real insight into how the clues were correlated and what part their use of mathematics played. In other words, there was no need for the authors to actually write any mathematics, because it was to be dumbed down so that our little brains could cope with it. Did they not realise, that with a title like “The Bletchley Circle” it was always going to attract lovers of maths and cyphers and theorems? I was disappointed. I actually went to school, I’ve photos to prove it. I would have coped – and enjoyed it more (and now I find out that if I get stuck, I can just go and ask my old headmaster, who I’ve just discovered worked with Alan Turing at Bletchley Park)!
But I digress. So imagine how thrilled I was, to see a film advertised on Film4 called, wait for it maths geeks, “Pi“! Yes, I know, “Pi“! Described by the excellent IMDB website as “A paranoid mathematician searches for a key number that will unlock the universal patterns found in nature” Oh sure we’re given some meaty tit-bits to chew on – the significance of the mathematics of the Torah for instance, but we are never truly taken inside the mind of our protagonist enough to understand his apparent revelation but are instead, eventually fobbed off with the excuse that “God just gave it to him”.
Of course occasionally, Hollywood et al do treat us. John McClane is given maths riddles to solve in “Die Hard: With A Vengeance” and even Mr. Bean gives us a lesson in simplified sheep counting, in the appropriately named “Goodnight Mr Bean“.
So please filmmakers, don’t be scared. Don’t scrimp on the science, don’t ration the maths in case our little brains explode, it’s ok, we’ll understand it. Oh sure if the bad guys are making a bomb from salt-peter and fertiliser you might want to gloss over the finer points of how to make it go with a really big bang, but if the only real danger is that you excite us with the maths, we’re up for that.
Anyway, must go, Scooby-Doo time.