It’s My Turn

I was never really sure I believed Weibel’s famous footnote that a proof of the Snake Lemma appeared in a 1980 romantic comedy, It’s My Turn, but Oliver Knill has put together a gallery of math clips from movies and TV shows, and it’s there.

What’s interesting about the clip is that it’s clear to a math audience that the student who keeps interrupting is a blowhard who has no idea what he’s talking about. While it would be clear to any audience that the student is arrogant, I don’t know if it would be clear that the student doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

6 thoughts on “It’s My Turn

  1. For the record, I don’t think it is clear at all to a non-mathematician that the student doesn’t know what he is talking about (at least it wasn’t clear to me when I watched). He just seems a bit obnoxious and a know it all, but presumably that was enough for the film’s purposes.

    • It isn’t clear to a mathematician that he doesn’t know what he’s taking about, either. His objections are absolutely canonical, and this exact scene plays out hundreds of times each semester. Those are exactly the points that should be raised by a careful verifier, and Clayburgh’s responses are exactly the correct answers.

      But yes, he’s obnoxious about it, likely in part because especially at that time women were extremely rare in math departments.

      • To a non-mathematical audience, would it be clear that she actually answers his objections? And there’s the bit at the end of the clip where he patronizes her about her own research and suggests that she’s gotten as far as she’s going to, and he’ll get much further. If you don’t know that she answered his objections, you might think that his objections show that she really is over her head.

  2. There’s a snippet of mathematics toward the end as well, but I barely remember it (and I don’t think I could possibly force myself to sit through this movie; what I caught looked unbearably bad). I think we’re given to understand the Jill Clayburgh is a finite group theorist, and at the end she sketches an idea to obnoxious grad student Cooperman (Daniel Stern) for the problem she’s been working on, and he scribbles something quickly in his notebook, and says something supportive like, “Right! And if that’s correct, then that would mean the quotient is abelian! This is brilliant!” And she chuckles at him indulgently and tells him to slow down; there’s plenty of time to work through the details.

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