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Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross


Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1997)

A point is that which cannot be divided. A line is a length without a breadth. This can’t possibly interest you (to the child). A semicircle is a figure contained within the diameter and the circumference intersected by the diameter.

SMILLA: The only thing that makes me truly happy is mathematics, snow, ice, numbers. To me the number system is like human life. First you have the natural numbers, the ones that are whole and positive like the numbers of a small child. But human consciousness expands and the child discovers longing. Do you know the mathematical expression for longing? Negative numbers. The formalization of the feeling that you are missing something. Then the child discovers the in between spaces, between stones, between people, between numbers and that produces fractions, but it’s like a kind of madness, because it does not even stop there, it never stops. There are numbers that we can’t even begin to comprehend. Mathematics is a vast open landscape. You head towards the horizon and it’s always receding