Every year around this time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences searches for a few important films that
fit its Best Picture category. This year's leading candidate, "A Beautiful Mind," fits that category perfectly -
personal conflict, tragedy and triumph, overcoming the odds, and global significance. In fact, in every facet, it should
have an automatic date with Oscar in March.
Directed by Ron Howard, "A Beautiful Mind" relates the story of John Forbes Nash, Jr., a gifted mathematician who
overcomes the inner conflict of schizophrenia to achieve the prestigious Nobel Prize. It is a story of tremendous
sadness and confusion, as one watches Nash and those dear to him come to terms with his mental illness. But it is also
an inspiring piece of film making along the lines of Howard's other works such as "Apollo 13" and "Cocoon." What it
lacks in flamboyance and bravado, it makes up for with subtlety and emotion. By far, this is Howard's best work.
The story opens in the late 1940's at a reception for incoming students at the prestigious Princeton
University. John Nash has arrived on a Princeton fellowship, much to the amusement of his fellow classmates.
Here, he awkwardly attempts to socialize, but soon realizes that he is of a different mindset. He is more
aloof and shy than the others and would rather skip class to pursue his one unique idea. That one, unique
idea happens to be his theory of "Non-cooperative Games." And it is this theory that helps him achieve a
Sloan sabbatical, work at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, a teaching position at MIT, and
eventually, the Nobel Prize in mathematics.
In portraying the role of Nash, Russell Crowe sheds his in-your-face 'Gladiator' persona and adopts the introverted
mannerisms of a Bluefield, West Virginia genius who is uncomfortable in dealing with people. Asked by his roommate
Charles (played splendidly by Paul Bettany whom you might remember for his standout performance in "A Knight's Tale") why
he doesn't have any friends, Nash responds: "I don't much like people and they don't much like me." Although seemingly
comfortable with his shyness, it is this quality that makes him both a mysterious and interesting character.
Equally mysterious is the character by the name of Parcher (Ed Harris). Parcher is a secret agent who pops in
and out of John's life with details of an atomic bomb being kept secretly by the Russians on American soil. To
foil the plan, John must crack a variety of codes, detailing the current whereabouts of Russian spies.
While working as a teacher at MIT and working covertly for the government, Nash discovers true love. Intrigued and
unabashed by his forwardness, a promising young graduate student falls in love with him. Portrayed elegantly by
Jennifer Connelly, Alicia Larde is unaware of the secret life that John keeps. And, after a short courtship, they
marry and Alicia becomes pregnant.
It is here where John's paranoia begins to settle in. While pregnant, Alicia discovers the truth behind John's work.
She meets Dr. Rosen (Christopher Plummer), a psychiatrist who oversees John's treatment consisting of shots of insulin
and shock therapy. However, it is not until later in the film that John actually begins to understand his illness. In
perhaps one of the most compelling scenes, Dr. Rosen tells John that he cannot reason his problem away because the
problem is where his reason comes from. And if not properly treated, it will get worse. Alicia must then choose to
have him committed and lose him forever or stay by his side.
Very rarely will a film allow us to observe mental illness from the inside. And "A Beautiful Mind" accomplishes this
very well. Throughout the first half of the film, we are introduced to characters and situations that seem real, yet
we learn later as Nash learns himself that they are creations of his imagination. This dramatic twist in the film
changes our perception of everything we've seen and challenges us to decipher between what is real and what is
On the brink of insanity, it is realistically hard to imagine anyone staying with John for any period of time.
Although not a complete vegetable, John struggles to cope with his new-found reality and is determined to put his past
to rest. And this is certainly a testament to Alicia's commitment and love for John.
Adapted by Akiva Goldsman from the book of the same title by Sylvia Nassar, the screenplay makes only a mere
attempt at capturing the authentic life of John Nash. In the words of Goldsman, I tried to create "scenes that
would evoke the experience of the life John lived, but not literal scenes from his life." Obviously, this has
caused much controversy as many feel the film has been 'Hollywoodized' or altered in such a way as to make light
of darker details. Such omitted details include Nash's life as a bisexual, his divorce, having a child out of
wedlock, the timely occurrence of his schizophrenia, and the fact that he never spoke a word at the Nobel Prize
ceremony. Yet, in my mind, to have included these details would have changed the complexion of the entire picture,
making Nash less sympathetic to movie audiences and defeating the original intent of the story - that in the most
unlikely of places, extraordinary things can happen.