johnlink ranks TRAVELLING SALESMAN (2012)

Went to Massachusetts for an education conference. Got in to the hotel late, but wasn’t nearly tired enough to sleep. I browsed Amazon Prime for awhile and came across the math-based indie film TRAVELLING SALESMAN. Seemed like a movie smart enough to try out, so I did.


I watched TRAVELLING SALESMAN (2012) on 1.22.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

This is a film which finds four math geniuses (Danny Barclay, Eric Bloom, Tyler Seiple, Matt Lagan) having spent the previous several years of their lives solving the math problem P=NP. That less than famous equation ponders wether a computer which is able to verify the answer to a question would also be able to quickly solve the answer to that same question. One character sees it as a matter of perspective. He offers an example that a paper clip in a desert would be almost impossible to find. But heat the sand up until it turns into glass, and that same paper clip would make itself visible.

Told in a real time meeting as well as through a series of flashbacks (and one scene which is either fantasy or a possible future, depending on your perspective of it), the four mathematicians argue with a government operative (Marc Raymond) who informs them that their proof will not be their property and will instead belong to the US Government. The title of the film alludes to how the government treats these high leverage situations; that is to say that they treat them as daily occurrences that may need some salesmanship and deception to get what they want.

What the movie becomes, then, is a conversation in scientific ethics. What are the ramifications of their findings? The most obvious implication of a system which could solve any problem quickly is that no firewall or anti-virus or encryption would be safe from detection. The US would literally control (or have the ability to control) all things networked. The math guys obviously have a moral problem with this. But, the question arises, are they in any position to do anything about it? T

TRAVELLING SALESMAN is a movie with big questions and a small budget. Made for under $10,000, it mostly unravels in a single room with just a few diversions. The dialogue has moments which feel inorganic, with some of the characters using cliche phrasing that doesn’t seem to fit what we know of them. But, most of the time, it sounds like a smart movie written by people with ideas. Likewise, the acting is often wooden and stagnant. Yet, in some key moments, the proper points land as they should.

This isn’t a revolutionary math/sci-fi movie like π or Primer. But in terms of small movies trying to make a point in the world of mathematicians, Timothy Lanzone’s TRAVELLING SALESMAN gives a noble effort.




FINAL SCORE: 5.5 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on January 24, 2015.

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