I learned from a colleague last night about recent events bringing together the topics of the title of this posting, something that one wouldn’t have thought was possible. Last Wednesday there was a showing in Berkeley of Edward Frenkel’s short film Rites of Love and Math, together with the Yukio Mishima film Rites of Love and Death that inspired it. Frenkel is a math professor at Berkeley, and one of the leading figures in geometric Langlands research (which he describes as a “grand unified theory of mathematics”). He’s also a wonderful expositor, almost single-handedly making the beauty of a subject initially renowned for its obscurity accessible to a much wider audience. Recently he has worked with Witten on relations of geometric Langlands to quantum field theory, and with Langlands and Ngo on relations to number theory. At the same time, while a visiting professor in Paris, he co-directed (with Reine Graves) and acted in this new film.
MSRI was one of the two sponsors of the showing of the film, but pulled out of this role recently, for reasons explained here by MSRI director Robert Bryant. He had found that some people in the math community were upset by the film and MSRI’s involvement with it, feeling that it glamorized an objectionable view of the relationship of women to mathematics. There’s a plan to organize some sort of event at MSRI to discuss the issues brought up by the film and the decision to withdraw sponsorship.
I still haven’t seen the film, although I gather that a DVD will soon be available. Congratulations to all involved in this for finding a unique way to make mathematics and mathematicians look interesting and worthy of media coverage. I had no idea it was still possible to stir up controversy in the Bay area with art involving transgressive sex, and would never have thought that using research mathematics was the way to do it.
Update: Andrew Ranicki has written a review of the film for the London Math Society newsletter, available here. He identifies the notorious equation in question (5.7 of http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0610149), and makes the comment that, sartorially, this film is a breakthrough, since, in other films:
By and large, male mathematicians are portrayed as crazies who are smart and lovable, but badly dressed. Likewise for female mathematicians, although they tend to be better dressed. This said, in the film under review, the actors are either very well dressed, or not dressed at all.