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Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross


Torn Curtain (1966)

As part of the arms race the American professor Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) and the East German Professor East German Professor Gustav Lindt (Ludwig Donath) are working both working on a superior rocket design. Lindt succeeds while Armstrong does not, so Armstrong pretends to defect to East Germany to get to work with Lindt and steal the new design from him. By mistake Armstrong’s fiancée Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews) who thinks that Armstrong really wants to defect to the East ends up on the same one-way flight to East Germany. Another East German Professor Karl Manfred (Gunter Strack) who also thinks that Armstrong really wants to defect facilitates his flight to the East. Armstrong meets up with a farmer who is a member of an underground organization that will help him escape from East Germany once he has achieved his objective. His password is the Pi, which in this scene he draws in the sand with one of his shoes.

Armstrong meets another member of the underground organization who is a medical doctor.

ARMSTROMG: Who are you?
DOCTOR: Didn't the farmer tell you? I'm Dr Koska.
ARMSTROMG: I thought Koska was a man.
DOCTOR: That was my husband. He was a professor of mathematics here. That is why he used the sign pi for our organization.
His fiancée wants to leave Armstrong once she is convinced that he really wants to defect. Armstong wants to keep her safe but eventually is forced to confess to her, because he needs her help. As a result she decides to stay.

MANFRED: Your little walk with Michael seems to have had its effect.
Well, l had a chance to think things over.
ARMSTROMG: Ah, well, thank you Manfred. I was able to combine mathematical logic with romantic inconsistency.
Finally Armstrong and Lindt are alone and in the following scene Armstrong succeeds in tricking Lindt to reveal his secret.

LINDT: This Gamma Five work of yours sounds interesting. You're a brilliant young man. You know, there aren't many of us, Armstrong. Here. Here is where the work is done. The rest is all mechanics. You said you made already Gamma Five?
ARMSTROMG: Well, yes. Mind you, we've only done preliminary tests.
LINDT: Why is that?
ARMSTROMG: We had trouble getting money.
LINDT: But there's nothing the matter with the theory.
ARMSTROMG: As far as I'm concerned, the problem's solved.
LINDT: Solved? If you solved it, why didn't you publish the results?
ARMSTROMG: Security.
LINDT: Ah! Security. On the theoretical level, you could've published something.
ARMSTROMG: You mean like you did last year in the East German Journal of Physics?
LINDT: Oh, you read that paper?
LINDT: Then you know that this thing you're talking about I happened to have discovered too.
ARMSTROMG: Possibly. I just think our methods were different.
LINDT: How? How different? Well, here's my workroom. All my secrets. It's probably the most secret room in the whole country, but, you see, no guards. I find it nice and familiar.
LINDT: Well?
ARMSTROMG: Velocity, right? Sighs
LINDT: And so. Mumbling in German Omega x plus drei Omega Quadrat Epsilon)
LINDT: You're not going to work with me, Professor, if that is the extent of your knowledge.
ARMSTROMG: Well, I'm not through yet.
LINDT: I'm afraid, Professor, you have very little to offer.
ARMSTROMG: You know, Professor, I came here because the people who allocate money in my country weren't intelligent enough to pursue a wholly original concept. That works.
Lindt steps up to the blackboard and makes some changes.
LINDT: Nein. Da!
ARMSTROMG: No, no, no, no, no! He changes things again.
LINDT: Pfft! It will blow up.
ARMSTROMG: Well, we built it, and it works, and it didn't blow up.
LINDT: Four years ago we tried it at Alma-Ata. It blew up.
ARMSTROMG: Well then, your equipment was faulty. Your concept was probably wrong too. You misunderstood it.
LINDT: I? Lindt? Misunderstood? Rubbish! You come to me from the United States, and I don't care if you come from the moon! I tell you what you say is rubbish! Look. Look.
(Man) ''Achtung, Achtung. Professor Armstrong und Miss Sherman werden gebeten ins Buero des Rektors zu kommen. Professor Armstrong and Miss Sherman, you're wanted at once the Vice Rector's office.
LINDT (mumbling in German): Vau Gee ist Vau Er minus Vau. Em ist gleich Ka …. Minus Ka zwei Phi.
LINDT: Huh? Not so?
ARMSTROMG: What if you took it this way? And this way?
LINDT: Oh, no, no, no, no, no! Go! Learn!
(mumbling in German) plus Omega Ii … (next line) minus Omega …
LINDT: Why do you say ''ah''?
ARMSTROMG: Surely there's something missing.
LINDT: But it works! In Russia, we built it. It works!
ARMSTROMG: My God. That's brilliant. You jumped a step, didn't you?
LINDT: Of course it's brilliant. It's genius. The Russians thought I was crazy,
They didn't know I'm Lindt.
(Speaking In German)
'!Professor Armstrong und Miss Sherman,,,''
(Continues ln German)
LINDT: They're asking all the students of this section to search for you. Why? What have you done? You told me nothing. You know nothing.
I forbid you to leave this room!