The Oxford Murders


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The basic idea behind this film was to combine a standard murder mystery with a heady academic overlay, as filtered through pop culture. Imagine a hybrid of The Name of the Rose and The DaVinci Code.

The setting is modern day Oxford, where an old woman's murdered body is found simultaneously by a mathematics teacher (John Hurt) and one of his new American students (Elijah Wood).  The first murder comes with the first puzzle in a promised series, so it appears that the murder is the first of several which will be committed by a serial murderer who will follow an intricate sequence of symbols. The professor and his student are intrigued and undertake to solve the series, while the police come to suspect that one or both of them are involved in the murders.

Hurt and Frodo spend a great deal of the film's running time discussing mathematics and its application in the real world. Hurt's professor takes the position that the abstract perfection of mathematics and symbolic logic inevitably prove useless outside of the virtual universe of the mind, because real life is too filled with uncertainty, randomness, and acts committed by irrational minds. Frodo argues that while absolute certainty may be impossible in the natural world, one may come close enough that the lingering vestige of uncertainty is virtually irrelevant in practical terms. We do not know for sure that the sun will rise in the East tomorrow, for example, but the likelihood of other possibilities is so infinitesimal that there is no reasonable case for doubt, and therefore every reason to build upon an assumption that it will happen.

There's plenty of name-dropping from the world of philosophy, with Heisenberg and Wittgenstein getting top billing, but unlike the far superior The Name of the Rose, none of that jibber-jabber was really integrated tightly into the solution to the murders. It is not entirely irrelevant, but is mainly backdrop, which makes it of interest mainly to those few of us who took philosophy courses even when they were not required. There is also a little bit of name-dropping from the world of mathematics in which these two academics are actually supposed to dwell, but in that field the names have been changed. The film shows an Oxford professor solving "Bormat's last theorem," presumably because various academics would carp about any fallacies in a proof of Fermat's famous unsolved postulation, or perhaps because somebody (Andrew Wilkes) was acknowledged to have actually solved the real problem between the time the script was written and the time it was produced. Or maybe Fermat's estate was demanding a royalty check. Beats me. At any rate, the sub-plot about the professor who solved the enigma posed by the fictional "Bormat" was utterly irrelevant to the murder mystery.

It's a thriller which may bore you to tears in the first half if you are not interested in epistemology and/or advanced math, and then will frustrate you in the second half with some of its more preposterous inventions, including an outrageous coincidence involving the third symbol in the eventual series of four, each of which corresponds to one incident of murder. The second half of the film also includes a love scene between Frodo and Leonor Watling which is one of the most awkward ever filmed since Liberace's smooching in Sincerely Yours, but in spite of that, men may well find Ms Watling's impressively curvy figure to be the film's strongest asset.

The solution is certainly not lacking in complexity. I always try to solve a murder mystery along with the investigators, and I hadn't a clue on this one until the curtain was pulled aside. You may find the solution quite interesting, if convoluted and unlikely. It is reasonably clever and I guess its unpredictability was part of the point the author was making with with all the earlier blathering about randomness. The one thing I found most interesting about the solution was that the student and professor eventually realized that each of them was responsible for one of the four incidents, although neither of them actually committed a murder. That fact revealed them to be the proverbial butterflies whose fluttering wings eventually disrupt weather systems on the other side of the planet, as they had debated ad nauseum earlier in the film.

No North American info has been released yet, but it can be pre-ordered on a Region Two DVD from the UK, where it will hit the streets on Aug 18. 2008


2 BBC  (of 5 stars)


6.4 IMDB summary (of 10)


It was a hit in Spain, where it opened as the top movie and ended up grossing more than $12 million in the first quarter of 2008.

It bombed in The UK, where never hit the top ten and grossed less than $500 thousand.



  • Leonor Watling showed her breasts and bottom.



Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It is a competent and thoughtful film, but moves very slowly by the standards of murder mysteries, making it a curiosity item which is only suitable for a tiny, highly targeted audience.