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Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1990)

Rosencrantz (Gary Oldman) and Guildenstern (Tim Roth) are riding on horseback. Guildenstern spots a coin on the ground. He get’s it off and flips the coin.
GUILDENSTERN: Heads. He keeps flipping the coin. Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads …He throws it up again, and Rosencrantz catches it, looks at the coin and throws it back to Guildenstern. Heads. Rosencrantz gets a coin out of his purse and flips it, covering it with has hand. Bet. Heads, I win. Rosencrantz looks at the coin, says nothing, and throws it to Guildenstern, who covers it with his hand. Again. Guildenstern looks at the coin. Heads. Rosencrantz gets out another coin.
The two continue on horseback, with Guildenstern flipping a coin as he rides. Heads … Heads … Heads … Heads … he drops the coin, and it rolls down the hill. It comes up heads.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are now at camp.
GUILDENSTERN: It must be indicative of something other than the redistribution of wealth. He flips a coin to Rosencrantz, who looks at it.
GUILDENSTERN: A weaker man might be moved to reexamine his faith. If for nothing at least in the law of probability. He flips another coin to Rosencrantz.
GUILDENSTERN: Consider. One. Probability is a factor which operates within natural forces. Two. Probability is not operating as a factor. Three. We are now held within un- sub- or super-natural forces. Discuss.
GUILDENSTERN: Look at it this way. If six monkeys … if six monkeys … the law of averages, if I’ve got this right, means that if six monkeys are thrown up in the air long enough, they would land on their tails he throws another coin to Rosencrantz about as often as they would land on their
ROSENCRANTZ (looking at the coin): Heads. Getting a bit of a bore, isn’t it.
GUILDENSTERN: What about the suspense?
ROSENCRANTZ: What suspense?
GUILDENSTERN: It must be the law of diminishing returns. I feel the spell about to be broken. He flips a coin high into the air, catches it, and looks at it. He shakes his head. Well, an even chance.
ROSENCRANTZ: Seventy-Eight in a row. A new record, I imagine.
GUILDENSTERN: Is that what you imagine? A new record?
GUILDENSTERN: No questions, not a flicker of doubt?
ROSENCRANTZ: I could be wrong.
GUILDENSTERN: He hurls a coin at Rosencrantz. Fear!
ROSENCRANTZ: (looking at the coin): Seventy-Nine.
They are still at the campsight, Guildenstern is eating while Rosencrantz continues to flip a coin.
GUILDENSTERN: I think I have it. Time has stopped dead. The single experience of one coin being spun once is being repeated …
ROSENCRANTZ: Hundred and fifty-six.
GUILDENSTERN: … a hundred and fifty-six times! On the whole, doubtful. Or, a spectacular indication of the principle that each individual coin spun individually is as likely to come down heads as tails, and therefore should cause no surprise each individual time it does.
ROSENCRANTZ: Heads. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Guildenstern questions their memories largely ignored by Rosnecrantz.
GUILDENSTERN: We have been spinning coins together since … I don’t know when. And in all that time, if it is all that time, one hundred and fifty-seven coins, spun consecutively, have come down heads one hundred and fifty-seven consecutive times, and all you can do is play with your food!
ROSENCRANTZ: Wait a minute. He flips a coin in the air.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern meet The Player (Richard Dreyfuss) and his troupe of actors. Guildenstern has thrown a coin on the ground, as payment for a performance, and The Player stamps his foot on it.
GUILDENSTERN: Would you like a bet? Double or nothing.
Guildenstern walks away. Rosenkrantz picks up the coin and tosses it high in the air.
ROSENCRANTZ: Heads … or tails. He stamps his foot on the coin. Double or … He sees The player has disappeared … nothing.
ROSENCRANTZ: He looks at the coin. I say! That was lucky. It was tails.REMARKS: The flipping of a coin heads one hundred and fifty-seven times is a phenomenslly unlikely, and is meant to signify that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead, the non-existence of “natural forces”.