"A Beautiful Mind" is the best film of the year and Russell Crowe gives
the best performance of the year. Don't taint the experience by reading
any more of this or any review until after you've seen the movie. Just
go to the theater right now.
What, you're still here? Fine, then we'll do things the traditional way.
John Forbes Nash Jr. is a mathematical genius whose life was derailed
for several decades by mental illness. "A Beautiful Mind," director Ron
Howard's collaboration with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman ("A Time to
Kill"), tells his story, sort of. Like many people that were taken with
the film, I sought out the book on which it is based, only to discover a
number of surprising omissions. Now, it would be easy to accuse Howard
and Goldsman of leaving out some of the more unseemly aspects of Nash's
personality in a quest to craft the kind of "important" film that wins
Oscars. Easy and probably true.
But it doesn't matter, because the core story rises above cliché, and
Russell Crowe gives a performance so physically and verbally cohesive
that it truly seems as if he has become another soul entirely.
The story begins in 1947, with Nash as student at Princeton. He is
brilliant, but his people skills are wretched. Determined to make a
mathematical breakthrough, he works doggedly until meeting his goal.
"The game would be solved when every player independently chose his best
response to the other players' best strategies," he writes, changing the
world of economics forever. While teaching at M.I.T. and working for the
government, Nash meets Alicia (Jennifer Connelly, doing wonders with an
underwritten role), who eventually becomes his wife. There is no happily
ever after for the couple, as it is learned that Nash has an advanced
case of schizophrenia.
Nash, now 73, was in his early '30s when the disease hit. Ron Howard and
company come up with a simple, but ingenious method of letting viewers
see the world from Nash's point of view as the man drifts deeper and
deeper away. Despite the intense demands and lack of rewards, Alicia
refuses to desert her husband. Hopping through the decades a bit
haphazardly, Howard carries us through Nash's life into the '90s, when
something extraordinary happens.
Howard and Goldsman left a few things out. From Sylvia Nasar's
unauthorized biography, I learned a number of facts that didn't make it
into the film. For instance, while Alicia, an immigrant from El
Salvadore, indeed tended to the broken man for decades, she divorced him
in 1963. The life-partners remarried this year. Prior to meeting her, he
fathered a son, and left both mother and child to live in poverty. The
boy, named after his dad, grew to become a mathematician. He also
suffered from schizophrenia, and, like his father, found much of his
life divided between institutionalization and wandering the country.
Nash was bisexual and became known for the highly aggressive manner in
which he pursued men he fancied. He lost a position at the RAND
Corporation after being arrested for soliciting sex in a men's room in
He was also known as a snob, a racist and the man behind many cruel
Wait, there's more. John Nash believed that extraterrestrials were
sending him secret coded messages in the New York Times. His delusions
took a religious bent at one point as he headed for Europe, believing he
had been selected to be the Prince of Peace.
Only one bit of this information was incorporated into the screenplay,
and that bit was altered (very successfully, by the way) to make a more
effective story. As for excluding the rest of the facts, perhaps Howard
and Goldsman feared it would make the film less commercial. Or perhaps
Howard, ever the gentleman, simply felt it would be impolite. Regardless
of their reasons, they opted to give us a slightly softer John Nash.
Thankfully, the amazing Russell Crowe ends up in charge of the character
and, without words, puts the grit back in.
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott