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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Film Review | A Beautiful Mind (2001)



Mind over Matter

By Thomas Delapa


A Beautiful Mind is a beautifully shot drama about the mental workings of a schizophrenic. Amazingly, the mind in question belonged to John Forbes Nash, the 1994 winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics.

The tricky biopic that emerges from director Ron Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman is one that chillingly goes inside the head of its subject. Not literally, of course. Your own head may be spinning while you're watching the bizarre events unfold. Was Nash was really a paranoid schizophrenic, or was Cold War America of the 1950s slightly crazy? "Yes" may be the answer to both questions.

Oscar winner Russell Crowe stars as Nash, who in 1947 entered Princeton University with a bright future. Withdrawn and arrogant, Nash was obsessed to formulate an original math theory as a way to distinguish himself from his preppy colleagues. Nash was also brilliant at deciphering codes, a talent that is quickly put to use by the Pentagon.

Your opinion of A Beautiful Mind will rest on whether you mind being manipulated, perhaps even deceived, by the filmmakers. As the 1950s pass, Nash is drawn further and further into the top-secret Cold War assignments given to him by a sinister G-man (Ed Harris). However hush-hush, Nash's government work seems believable given the exploding Cold War tensions of the times.

Howard and Goldsman aren't especially forthcoming with the facts, sacrificing "reality" in order to increase the mystery and suspense. But the suspense they create has all the logic and internal perfection of a Newtonian formula.
I found Crowe's performance, while painstaking, to be mannered and overly technical. More naturalistic is his striking co-star Jennifer Connelly, playing the M.I.T. student who becomes his steadfast wife.

In the equation that adds up to A Beautiful Mind, two shining parts are the art design (by Wynn Thomas) and the cinematography (by Roger Deakins). In an amusing demonstration of Nash's "game theory," we scientifically witness how single males compete for an attractive female in a bar. Later, the sight of Nash's office and garage plastered with magazines—part of his decoding work—is creepy.

I wish Howard and Goldsman would have devoted more time to Nash's important mathematical work. After all, were it not for his published theories, he would have probably been just another anonymous academic afflicted with mental disease.

A schizophrenic, says Nash, is someone who "doesn't know what's true." Given the subterfuge, delusions and paranoia of the Cold War era, that diagnosis could have easily been applied to millions of normal Americans.

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[A Beautiful Mind was winner of the 2001 Academy Award for Best Picture.]

Originally published in Boulder Weekly, 12/27/01

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