Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross

Death of a Neapolitan Mathematician (1992)

This movie was inspired by the mathematician Renato Caccioppoli (1904-1959). Two other mathematicians feature prominently in the movie. Pietro, one of Renato’s students who is about to become a professor himself and Father Simplicio, who is also a priest.

8:00
Renato drawing something mathematical on the wall.

13:00
Renato lecturing. He is proving the Sandwich Theorem from calculus
(three continuous functions f,g,and h. If f\leq g \leq h and \lim_{x\to x_0} f(x) = \lim_{x\to x_0} h(x)=l, then \lim_{x]to \x_0} g(x)=l. )
STUDENT: Professor, may I ask an off-subject question?
RENATO: Of course
STUDENT: Why was Einstein opposed to quantum theory?
RENATO: According to Einstein God doesn’t play dice, and then you see, the world of truth in physics as the one in mathematics is as closed as a sphere. If a new vision is profound, it’s an escape from this sort of prison. You can have some resistance to escape or you cannot see the reason for it.

14:30
Some of Renato’s students and colleagues talking at lunch.
FATHER SIMPLICIO: Did you read the Mathematical Review?
PIETRO: Yes, I saw it.
FATHER SIMPLICIO: The sixth slashing is a row.
PIETRO: Renato asks for it. He goes to international meetings and mocks the scientific world. Americans, Swiss….

26:00
Renato has checked some of Pietro’s mathematics
PIETRO: You’ve checked everything. You did it very quickly, but it took me forever
RENATO: One shouldn’t love math too much. It should love you…
PIETRO: Actually, you did it all over again.
RENATO: Yes, but selfishly. I should have underlined the errors and make you come to the solution. It would have taken time
….
Turn to formula 25. The exponent is four, not three.

30:00
Some of Renato’s scribblings

32:00
Renato doing some calculations in his apartment.

35:00
blackboard in his apartment

41:00
Pietro talking to father Simplicio.
PIETRO: So this is my work for the chair competition. Renato had to check it, but started from scratch. I’m grateful. It’s planned in a better manner, but you know Renato, he rushes sometimes. You have patience, Father Simplicio and you’ll be discreet about all this. Will you help me check it through?
FATHER SIMPLICIO: I would give you a hand but it’s too late. Send your own work in then.
PIETRO: There’s an extension. I phoned Rome this morning.
FATHER SIMPLICIO: Let’s see. A mathematician’s career starts too early. One, two analysis exams and one almost has to discover a theorem.
PIETRO: You know one doesn’t learn mathematics. It’s an eye you have inside. It shows you a field of vision.
Immediately. You start young.
FATHER SIMPLICIO: I have no field of vision. I know you have to take it a step at a time.

52:00
Father Simplicio talking to Renato.
FATHER SIMPLICIO: They’ve pointed out important passages of your work. They’re delighted. If they can handle it Look: “Thanks to his sets we’ll have a geometrical measure theory.”

1:01:00
Another lecture theatre scene: Blackboards not clear enough for deciphering … some integral formula

1:09:00
Student writing on the blackboard. Taylor expansion … remainder tends to 0…
RENATO: It’s nice to see that woman have brains, too. A five minute suspension for this young lady.

1:11:00
Renato examining another student. Actually, Father Simplicio is asking all the questions.

Father Simplicio asking a question: Give me an example where the hypotheses are not fulfilled, but where the function is implicit.
RENATO: Lauretano, 26.
STUDENT (protesting): You didn’t follow my exam!
RENATO: Did you want a 29? Lauretano, 29. End of the movie.
Obituary:… Renato was the first to study problems in functional analysis which in the thirties received a great boost with Schauder’s research in Poland and Leray’s in France.