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Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross


Little Man Tate (1991)

Little man Tate is the story of a little boy, Fred Tate, played by Adam Hann-Byrd, coming to terms with him being a wunderkind, mathematical and otherwise. The most important people contributing towards this development are his mother Dede (Jodie Foster), the wunderkind specialist Jane Grierson (Dianne Wiest), and another somewhat older mathematical prodigy Damon Wells (P.J. Ochlan), aka The Mathemagician.

Fred reads the Mathemagician by Jan Grierson.
DEDE: “The Mathematician”. Any good?
FRED: “The MatheMAGICIAN”. It’s Jane Grierson’s new book.
DEDE: Jane Grierson again. Great!
FRED: This boy, Damon Wells (the mathemagician), can multiply two columns of 20-digit numbers in five minutes.

Fred and Dede in the foyer of Jane Grierson’s institute for gifted children. Fred is looking at some models of the Platonic Solids.

Far-away look at some more mathematical models on display.

Teacher writes the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10 on the blackboard.
TEACHER: Who can tell me how many of these numbers are divisible by two? Anybody? Fred!
TEACHER: I know that you can tell me how many of these numbers are divisible by two. Note the way the teacher holds up her two fingers when she says this.
FRED: All of them.32:00
Fred builds a tensegrity model of an icosahedron from rubber bands and pencils (the pencils are the only rigid parts of this model, their twelve ends form the vertices of the icosahedron).

Mathematical quizshow for brilliant kids. For the first time, we see the mathemagician in action.
QUIZMASTER: How many minutes are there in 48 years.
DAMON: 25,228,800 minutes. .. 151,368,000 seconds.
The second number is not correct. It should be 1,513,728,000.
QUIZMASTER: That’s very good. Ready for another one? How many factors are there in 3067.
Damon: Come on guys. There are no factors of 3067. The number is prime.
QUIZMASTER: Another correct answer from Damon Wells.
DAMON: Somebody, for God’s sake, challenge me!
QUIZMASTER: Ok, How about giving me a number, that when divided by the product of its digits the quotient is three, and if you were to add 18 to this number the digits would be inverted.

Fred whispers 24, before Damon figures it out.

Fred in mathematical quizshow
FRED: 1008
QUIZMASTER: What is the cube root of 3,796,466.
FRED: 156
Actually, the quizmaster should have asked for the cube root of 3,796,416 to get an integer answer.
QUIZMASTER: Correct. What number has the following peculiarity. This if its cube were added to five times its square and from the result 42 times the number and 40 is subtracted, the remainder is nothing.
FRED: Five.

Fred and Damon are riding horses.
DAMON: Yeah, sometimes, instead of listening to her (Jane Grierson), I just count the words she says. Actually, I count everything. Buildings. Dance steps. Airspace. Trees.
FRED: Wow.
He looks up at the leafs above them and something mathemagical seems to be happening in his mind. This is conveyed by the image of the leafs changing texture.

While Fred is watching somebody play pool, something mathematical seems to be happening in his head indicated by blue arrows.