A Beautiful Mind

"What's the sense in being crazy if you can't have a little fun?"
- Russell Crowe as John Forbes Nash Jr. in "A Beautiful Mind"*

A Beautiful Mind
TM & (c) 2001 Universal Studios and Dreamworks LLC
An impressive film, but the Nash Equilibrium seems to have become imbalanced through the addition of the Grazer Imperative and the Howard Imposition.

Ron Howard proves once again that he has a comprehensive, comprehending mind for the general public's attitudes and tastes. Appeal, in some books (or scripts) it would seem, is all. This time around he serves up an interesting fable dealing with the private problems of a mathematical whiz kid suffering as an outsider, who, despite several friendships, is ultimately surrounded by many whose attitudes cannot (or will not) embrace either comprehension or compassion. Coupled with this, the young genius must endure several developing problems associated with his paranoia and schizophrenia, only to finally be defeated by an experienced and manipulative director who turns his life into something akin to a thriller-cum-soap-opera. Will this poor man be spared nothing?

The problem with this film is that John Forbes Nash Jr. really exists. One can reasonably assume that a man whose life has been dedicated to mathematics would never deliver a Nobel Prize acceptance speech that (as represented here) consists of only three sentences and concentrates itself on the importance of love above all other matters. (That is, of course, unless he had gone totally insane at this point in his life.) What is basically a carefully crafted film handling serious material in a manner accessible to all audiences suddenly goes terribly awry by betraying the main character at the last moment. Of course, a response to such a harsh accusation would undoubtedly include the argument that this film is meant to be regarded as a story "inspired by events in the life of etc. etc. etc." rather than seen as a faithful biopic. Why, then, haven't the names been changed to protect the innocent? Of course, one can always accept the application of artistic freedom when preparing a story for the screen, but there are limits. Crediting a screenplay as "written by" instead of "screenplay by" (even when application is endorsed by the Writer's Guild of America) in order to substantiate a work for being significantly different from its source material doesn't pull the wool over the eyes of anyone with a slight modicum of intelligence.

Arriving at Princeton without the usual moneyed ancestry or prep school background, the young West Virginian John Nash (Russell Crowe) carved a niche of his own after some early rough patches caused by his seeming eccentricities. Not interested in attending classes or following the status quo, he believes that the only direction to follow is that toward discovering an original idea. Inept at most social niceties such as flirting, he doesn't manage to develop a decent sexual relationship until he meets a beautiful and charming new student named Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) who (surprise!) is destined to become his wife. Unaware of pending relationships with several other characters who exist solely in his mind, Alicia doesn't realize the hard times that are heading toward her. This is where the big problems really begin: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The real-life Nash had become a living legend by the age of 30, during the post World War II years, as a result of his early theory when schizophrenia struck full force and unexpectedly split his life into pieces.

A Beautiful Mind
TM & (c) 2001 Universal Studios and Dreamworks LLC
Getting involved with the secret service and cold war antics against the Russians when his services are requested by the notorious government agent William Parcher (Ed Harris), Nash becomes code-breaker sublime (or so he thinks). At this point, the poignant human-analysis of an outsider in trouble and quirky love-story of an oddly matched couple branches into yet the third cinematic trail of spy-thriller. This is a film that leaves no stone unturned while seeking a potential audience.

Amongst the most horrifying issues dealt with in the film are the methods used in the 1950's to treat a person with schizophrenic tendencies. Insulin shock therapy, a treatment often forgotten about nowadays, was applied too often during that time. (The equally horrifying and popular electro-shock therapy of that age seems, unfortunately, to be resurfacing once again in the recent past. The numerous innovative devices developed for treatment of the most vulnerable in our society never seems to cease appropriately.) The actual physical size of the real-life Nash as a young man bears a striking resemblance to the sturdy athletic figure of Russell Crowe. One can only assume that the withered looking body of later years is partially the result of insulin shock as well as mental torment.

Oh, by the way, John Nash and his wife Alicia were divorced in 1963, but ultimately reunited in 2001 (fortunately for Mr. Howard and the publicity). The "New York Times" contains an article on June 7th, 2001 with details regarding the marriage. This aspect of Nash's private life is one of many not dealt with in the film. One can only assume that such omissions have been made an attempt to protect the oh-so-desirable happy ending and ensure high box-office attendance.

An intelligently crafted script "written by" Akiva Goldsman with cleverly phrased propositions and succinctly expressed emotions is pointed and perceptive in its analysis of both the man Nash and his wife, but manages to ruin the effect in the penultimate moments by inserting the truly incredible Nobel Prize acceptance speech. (It's possible that, twenty years hence, this scene may ultimately develop into a source of comic delight for future audiences.) Despite the numerous liberties taken with the life of Nash as well as the original biography of Sylvia Nasar (who believes the "screenplay captures the essence of the story"), Goldsman has created an successful and exciting tearjerker that finally falls apart itself at the end.

The actors in the film add a solid strength to what might have otherwise become run-of-the-mill performances including an exceptionally sensitive rendering of the loving, yet tormented wife Alicia by Jennifer Connelly as well as notable appearances by Judd Hirsch as the sturdy and sensitive professor Helinger and Ed Harris as the strong-willed, despicable Parcher.

The story of John Nash deals with a beautiful mind, a sensitive mind, and a creative mind, but some of the truths have been lost in translation to the screen. Dealing with astronauts or fire-fighters allows more leeway in acceptable exaggerations, but this sort of approach takes on a more deceptive impact when taking license with the life of someone like Nash and turning his life into slick pulp. Well, Ron, to say the least, we are "Terrified, mortified, petrified and stupefied, by you."

*Call me, Harvey, we're holding your seat.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett