A Beautiful Mind [DVD]
Screenplay : Akiva Goldsman (based on the book by Sylvia Nasar)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Russell Crowe (John Forbes Nash, Jr.), Jennifer Connelly (Alicia Nash), Ed Harris (William Parcher), Paul Bettany (Charles), Adam Goldberg (Sol), Vivien Cardone (Marcee), Judd Hirsch (Helinger)
There is an inherent danger in romanticizing the link between genius and insanity. It is a hard impulse to deny, as both geniuses and the insane are defined primarily in how they differ from ordinary people. Both are somehow removed from the everyday in extraordinary/terrible ways, so the urge to see them as two sides of the same coin is difficult to stifle completely. It lurks constantly in the background of our thoughts on the truly exceptional, and it pops up repeatedly in popular depictions of the troubled lives of the imminent, from musician David Helfgott, the subject of Scott Hicks' overpraised Shine (1996), to news reports on the troubled life of the Unabomber.
Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind, which tells the story of Nobel Prize-winning mathematical genius and paranoid schizophrenic John Forbes Nash, Jr., constantly plays with this line, but the film succeeds largely because it avoids conflating Forbes' brilliance and his mental illness, instead focusing on how the latter was an encumbrance on the former. It has been suggested, quite rightly, that the same unique mental predisposition that allowed Forbes to imagine the solution to complex mathematical quandaries in ways no other human being had been able to do also contributed to his sinking into paranoid hysteria and delusions. Yet, to say that they are one in the same, or to try to romanticize the schizophrenia as somehow being an enabling factor for his imminence, is a discredit to Forbes and a risky delusion in itself.
Nash first gained a name for himself at Princeton the late 1940s, where he wrote a master's thesis that essentially revised 150 years of economic theory and eventually became the bedrock for future works in disciplines as disparate as gaming theory and physics. A Beautiful Mind begins here, with Russell Crowe (Gladiator) playing Forbes as many have described him: arrogant, aloof, socially inept, and always in search of the true original idea. Disdainful of classroom learning, Nash was an individual in every sense of the word, a misanthrope who was fully aware of the fact that others didn't like him very much. Crowe plays up Nash's uncharismatic tendencies in a way that assures us that Nash is not to be sentimentalized, but not to the point that he becomes unbearable.
The screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, based on the critically lauded biography by Sylvia Nasar, is clever in how it deals with the onset of Nash's schizophrenia, and those who are familiar with Nash's life story will immediately recognize the primary mechanism by which it works. Those who don't know Nash's life will likely enjoy the film the most, as it is designed to put you in his shoes and see his life from his point of view. In some instances, this involves rather laborious special effects that are designed to visualize his thought processes, whether that be matching the patterns of light created by sunlight refracting through the cut-glass surface of a tumbler to the design on a bad tie, or recognizing hidden codes in newspaper articles. Sometimes this works (as when Nash looks at a wall of numbers and discerns the repeating pattern), sometimes it is just silly (as in the scene where he describes the mathematically rationalized process by which three men can score with three women at a bar).
Like Nasar's biography, A Beautiful Mind is structured in three acts: genius, madness, and awakening. Nash's early days at Princeton produced his greatest works, and by the time he was in his early 20s, he had a coveted position at MIT. There, he meets a beautiful graduate student named Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), who somehow understands his eccentric, isolated ways of life and falls in love with and marries him. Then, Nash becomes involved in code-breaking for the government under the auspices of a shadowy CIA operative named William Parcher (Ed Harris), which leads him into a world of increasing fear and paranoia, to the point that he can no longer discern what is real and what is not. It is at this point that his schizophrenia reveals itself in its full-blown state, and much of what Nash thought was real turns out to be the production of his own mind.
A Beautiful Mind is at its most compelling when Nash is battling hardest against the forces within himself. There is a deep-seated irony that this isolated man finds his greatest rival inside his own mind, the very place that spawned his mathematical brilliance--it is the great tragedy that the rational and the irrational emerged from the same place, thus making the latter so much more believable for him. Again, the danger here is in seeing them as one and the same, but A Beautiful Mind constantly avoids this pitfall by placing them against each other, showing how the intellectual production of Nash the genius could only continue when once he willed himself to control the impulses of Nash the schizophrenic.
As Nash is constantly haunted by his delusions, the film never pretends (as some will accuse it of doing) of painting Nash as a miracle case who, by dent of the love of Alicia and others, "overcomes" his mental illness. It is true that, starting in the early 1990s, Nash's schizophrenia did go into remission, a rare occurrence for a mental illness that is generally degenerative in nature. The film uses this miracle of sorts in an expected feel-good kind of way, but by this point it has earned the right to do so. A Beautiful Mind is conventional in its narrative arc of transcending great obstacles, but Crowe's carefully nuanced portrayal of Nash and Howard's avoidance of cheap sentimentalism balances any overly audience-arousing histrionics the film throws our way toward the end, most notably when Nash is awarded the Nobel prize for mathematics in 1994.
Depicting mental states is a difficult thing to do in film, particularly in popular movies, and if A Beautiful Mind simplifies Nash's condition, it is in the pursuit of the cinematic, something for which it cannot be blamed. If you want to know the in-depth details of Nash's life and his bout with schizophrenia, read Nasar's excellent book. If you want an engaging, rousing, well-made film about a brilliant man whose life was almost completely devastated by mental illness, see A Beautiful Mind.
|A Beautiful Mind: The Two-Disc Awards Edition|
|Distributor||Universal Home Video|
|Release Date||June 25, 2002|
| 1.85:1 (Anamorphic)|
The anamorphic widescreen transfer is solid. Good detail level, strong color saturation, and nice black levels with excellent shadow detail. The film is also available in a full-frame version, but who would want that?
| English, French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround |
For the most part, the 5.1-channel surround soundtrack is somewhat front heavy, with only modest surround effects. James Horner's musical score is nicely rendered, though, with a subtle expansiveness that gives it a rich feeling without drawing undue attention to itself.
| Audio commentary by director Ron Howard |
Recorded just a few months after the film's theatrical release, director Ron Howard provides a pleasant, informative commentary that adds a nice depth of understanding to what it took to get this story on the screen. He also proves to be particularly insightful in discussing the visual nature of film and how to make something as potentially dull as mathematics visually interesting.
Audio commentary by screenwriter Akiva Goldsman
18 deleted scenes with optional director's commentary
"A Beautiful Partnership: Ron Howard and Brian Grazer"
"Inside a Writer's Mind: A Conversation With Akiva Goldsman"
"Meeting John Nash"
"Accepting the Nobel Prize in Economics"
"Casting Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly"
"The Process of Age Progression"
"Creation of the Special Effects"
"Scoring the Film"
"Inside A Beautiful Mind"
Academy Awards reactions from winners
Original theatrical trailer
Cast and filmmakers
Universal Studios Total Axess
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick