The Sum of All Fears

The Sum of All Fears - a review by Dave Fischer

After hearing all the controversy surrounding the timing of the release of this movie, and people's new-found sensitivity to some subjects, I was pleasantly surprised to discover upon viewing, that the movie stood on its own merits, and was not simply riding the wave of media hype, as so often happens.

The title of the movie, "The Sum of All Fears", refers to an eccentric mathematician, Professor Markov, played by Robin Williams, who constructs a bathysphere in the shape of a Klein Bottle, and uses it to study cloud formation. (Since a Klein Bottle bathysphere could not, obviously, keep any water out, it cannot be used to study the depths of the ocean, like a regular spherical bathysphere.)

Professor Markov's true life work is to construct a symbolic algebra of emotional states. Unfortunately, his peers consider that persuit to be unattainable at worst, and pointless at best, so he must hide his research behind the bathysphere project in order to continue receiving funding from the National Science Foundation.

As he floats amoung the clouds in his Klein Bottle Bathysphere, Proffesor Markov continually tests new mappings of his current emotional states into various sets, looking for a construct that reflects the dynamics his finds within his own heart.

After being caught in an unexpected (well, unexpected to an eccentric mathematician who wasn't paying attention) storm, the Professor finds himself stranded on a mountaintop, with a broken bathysphere, sprained ankle, and no food or water. He finds his daily concerns and fears - his journal publications, his funding, his fruitless persuits - all dissolving into a simple mindset based on the ancient motives of the animal trying to survive in the natural world. He manages to scrawl out an algebraic representation of this universal (though frequently hidden) state into the rock dome of the mountain peak, just before his fears leave him entirely, and he dies.

I highly recommend this movie, especially to topologists and set theorists.

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