This page is part of the website

Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross


The Favor (1994)

Peter (Bill Pullman) is a mathematician who has just woken up with his wife Kathy (Harley Jane Kozak).
PETER: Ohhh, I’ve been playing handball with quadratic equations all night.
KATHY: Yeah? Who won?
PETER: I’d better get this article finished, or I am never gonna get a good night’s sleep.

Their daughter Gina (Ginger Orsi) is in her bedroom, using an educational aid.
GINA: Three plus three is six. One plus one is two. Ten plus ten is twenty.

Peter is at his desk working on his paper, the Mandelbrot set is on his computer screen. He plays a blues riff on a harmonica between singing each line.
PETER: The attractor splits in two … magnetic fields drift … inflows??? become erratic…

Peter is in the kitchen making a sandwich, and Kathy walks in in a sexy nightie.
PETER: Teacher from Princeton started today. Joe Dubin. Brilliant guy. They just throw grants at him. He sticks with all those basic linear questions, like … How big is it, and how long does it last? So he gets a lot of equipment. Gets a lot of attention. (Kathy is at the fridge, erotically pouring honey into her mouth). But I don’t know. I think that he totally ignores the disorderly behaviour of a lot of important phenomenon. Can’t deal with it. Doesn’t know what to make of it, right? My stuff, you know this equation that I’m testing about reversing magnetic fields. You know with that stuff I gotta deal with disorderly behaviour. Because I mean patterns can be stable, but when they’re really fascinating is when they’re unstable. (Kathy is playing with an ice block). Chaotic. Wild and abandoned. He ignores Kathy, goes back to making his sandwich. Olives. So you look at the patterns. Logic gets you so far. Then you gotta go on a feeling. You gotta follow your intuition, see. I gotta feeling that there is a point of crisis in stable systems of magnetic fields, where small changes get magnified. Then all of a sudden, everything goes amok. (Kathy is playing with a slice of egg). I don’t know. It’s just, just a feeling. See that’s why I say that fractal geometry is a lot like the blues. The passion, the power, the mystery. (Kathy is playing with peanut butter). I don’t know. Sometimes you have to look for things in the periphery, because if you look right at it, you don’t see what’s there. He finally notices his wife playing with the . I’m sorry. Are you hungry? I’m gonna make you one of these!

Joe Dubin (Larry Miller) has come over for dinner.
JOE: I would say – not just me of course – others would say, when I was at Princeton … (to Kathy) grazi … When I left Princeton, and again it’s not just because I was chairman of the Department, but when I left, I believe it was the finest math department in the country.
JOE: Hmm?
PETER: You say it was the finest, because…
JOE: I left.

Joe is on a date with Kathy’s friend, trying to impress her.
JOE: So, blah, blah, blah, and when asked about this comparison to Einstein, Professor Dubin (chuckles) said, quote: Einstein flunked math, I didn’t. (chuckles) You can keep that one, I’ve got copies.

Peter and Kathy are fighting.
PETER: I work hard for the family. I’m killing myself trying to separate oscillations on fractal boundaries.
KATHY: How very meaningful.

Professor Allen (Deborah White) is giving a lecture. There is a shot of an overhead describing some dynamical system. In the background, on the blackboard is the limit calculation of the derivative of (with k incorrectly used and the variable in the first two lines) and another diagram. (meaning???).
PROFESSOR WHITE: At first it seemed as though the tangential relationship between the spheres of the y-axis were going to overlap, and I will be going into that very shortly.
Peter and Joe are in the audience, whispering about whether Kathy is having an affair.
JOE: I know what you’re thinking.
PETER: No you don’t
JOE: “Elliot’s got to know”.
PETER: I’m glad I confided in you. Listen. It was a dream, and dreams don’t mean anything.
JOE: Really? O.K. Alright, here’s a little physics for ya, O.K.? Joe writes some equations on his notepad. Remember Newton? Huh? ??? A body at rest remains at rest, a body in motion remains in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. I think we both agree, Kathy is a body in motion.
PETER: What are you talking about?
JOE: What am I talking about? Here. Joe shows his notepad to Peter. It seems something to do with harmonic motion, but the mathematical joke is unclear.
JOE: So, x equals Kathy.
Peter rushes out of the theatre.
JOE (to the audience): This isn’t Russian Lit!