Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
‘The Man Who Knew Infinity’ is a treat even for the mathematically challenged; experience professional stage production films at The Bing

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the July 21, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)

The Bing Crosby Theater in downtown Spokane offers a “From Stage to Screen” program, featuring films of live stage productions. (IR photo by Eric Meisfjord)

Movie Reviews

I am not familiar with the Dave Eggers novel upon which the new Tom Hanks film, A Hologram for the King, is based. In fact, to me the film feels like three or four short stories thrown together. There is the IT marketing man from a big American company trying to sell a new system to the King in Saudi Arabia. He becomes friends with a taxi driver (Alexander Black) who takes the American through Mecca to his family home for a weekend. And there is a romantic comedy love story between Alan (Hanks) and Zahra (Sarita Choudhury) that crosses cultural lines and seeks healing for both suffering from divorce.

The director is the famed German Tom Tykwer, who directed the classic Run Lola Run in the 1990s. This film seems disjointed and not sure what it is trying to do. But for those of us who think Tom Hanks is a spot-on American Everyman it can be at least a modestly enjoyable experience. I did laugh out loud several times and several of the minor characters, such as Alexander Black as the taxi driver, are terrific and steal the show.

The American salesman, Alan, has had a lot of disappointment and failure in his life, and now finds a growth on his back as he has panic attacks. That is how he meets Zahra, who is a medical doctor at a nearby hospital. Alan’s job, to sell the hologram IT system to the King, seems overwhelming, if not impossible. Yet he keeps getting up every day, even if each day it keeps getting later and later. And he keeps trying to break through what seem to be impossible cultural walls to do his job.

This is not a standout film for Hanks, but it is enjoyable in enough places for adults that make it worth seeing.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film R-restricted because of some sexual themes and brief nudity, along with brief drug use. Catholic News Service has rated the film A-III – for adults.


I am not much of a math person, but the new film based on an Indian mathematical wizard is a wonderful story that stays with you. The film is titled The Man Who Knew Infinity. It stars Dev Patel from the Marigold Hotel films as the mathematician Sirinivasa Ramanujan. He grows up in Southern India with little formal education, but has an intuitive sense for theoretical math.

The time is right before World War I and Ramanujan, through a series of events, leaves his beloved wife and lands at Trinity College at Cambridge, where his mentor is G. H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons.) The film has overtones of the British class and colonial systems in the tradition of Chariots of Fire and Downton Abbey.

Hardy sees the genius in Ramanujan but keeps pushing him to provide the proofs. For the Indian, the answers are intuitively correct.

There are examples of racism and cruelty toward the young prodigy. One part of the plot that seems forced is Ramanujan’s wife giving letters for him to his mother to post. The mother, fearing her son will invite his wife to England and never come back, hides the many letters in a secret box.

The story of how the mathematician grows at Cambridge and how the professor so concentrated on his profession begins to reach out as a friend is powerful.

To add to the conflict, England enters World War I and injured soldiers are placed in tents on the grand lawn of the college.

For me, one of the impressive realities of the film is its emphasis on the deep religious faith of Ramanujan. There are numerous scenes of the importance of prayer and worship within his Hindu faith. This is in contrast with the agnosticism of his mentor, Dr. Hardy.

This is a film that tells the story of one of the world’s great math scholars who, we learn, left mathematical material that helped on the “Black Holes” development and is still being used today.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-13; Catholic News Service has not yet rated the film. It would seem appropriate for older teens.

Book Review

Some months back I was greeting people after Mass at a parish and a parishioner handed me a note that said A Man Called Ove was a really good book. Well, I finally got around to reading the large-size paperback by the Swedish author Fredrik Backman and I would agree: It is very fine book. It is published by Washington Square Press for a list price of $16.99.

Ove is a wonderful character who is quiet, introverted, serious, but also has a heart of gold. His emotions are subdued except for anger, which he struggles with. He is a man who likes routine, fights for justice, and feels very strongly about his Saab automobile.

The story goes back and forth from Ove’s early life, and his love for Sonja and their married life together. The story has high drama with lots of humor. Sometimes the humor is about serious realities, like trying to kill yourself after your beloved wife dies. But something always seems to get in the way of Ove’s numerous and humorous attempts to end his life.

I’m sure there is a great deal of Swedish culture in this novel, but much of the account is universal in its connection to American readers. I do think most readers will laugh with moments of joy and tear up with the events that go to the heart of humanity.

A Man Called Ove is Number 4 on a recent New York Times paperback trade fiction best-seller list. From what I can gather its popularity has come from ordinary people passing on a recommendation to their friends and acquaintances, as someone kindly did to me.

This is the kind of book that entertains yet teaches some pretty important truths about our relationships with the people in our lives. I can’t urge you enough to meet Ove and his world of wonderful and lovable people.

Drama Possibilities

For those who live in the greater Spokane region, The Bing Crosby Theater, 901 W. Sprague in downtown Spokane, is offering a new monthly possibility for seeing drama from London in digital format on the large screen.

The program is called “From Stage to Screen.” The April selection was the British production of Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge and the cost was $17. The same play as shown is just finishing up on Broadway, where even half-price would be four times or more expensive. The difference from a live-performance where you are present in the theater is that there are close-ups. If you are old enough to remember live dramas on television way back in the 1950s or early ’60s, the effect is similar.

The May production was Skylight, by David Hare, starring Bill Nighy and Carey Mulligan.

If you join “The Friends of the Bing” there is a way these productions are already covered.

The schedule had Shakespeare’s As You Like It on July 17 and his The Taming of the Shrew on Aug. 21.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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