Mind Over Matter
Portraying real-life mathematician John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe trades in his handsome, Oscar-winning Gladiator image for that of a socially-inept genius suffering from schizophrenia. It’s not a pretty sight. In a heartbreaking performance, Crowe projects the "warts-and-all" persona of a man trying to conquer mental illness through sheer will power.
Although Crowe received another Oscar nomination for his work in A Beautiful Mind, I don’t enjoy seeing him in this type of role. I prefer watching him as the tough detective in L.A. Confidential or as Maximus wreaking revenge on an evil Roman emperor. Still, there’s no denying the man can play many different parts as effectively as any actor today. I can’t help wondering what he would be like in a musical. Maybe that’s not such a good idea. Remember how the great Marlon Brando flopped in Guys and Dolls? But I digress.
Getting back to A Beautiful Mind, I thought it would be a thriller, so my expectations were completely wrong. Instead, the movie is an intensely human drama about the impact of mental illness on a brilliant individual and the people around him. Nash’s wife, played sympathetically by Jennifer Connelly (Waking the Dead), who won Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this role, struggles to understand what’s happening to her husband, while his friend Sol (Adam Goldberg from Saving Private Ryan) worries about Nash’s eccentric behavior as a top-secret government code-breaker. Even his infant son faces danger with Nash as babysitter.
During the first part of the film, the eccentric young Nash surprises his Princeton rivals and skeptical professor (Judd Hirsch from Man on the Moon) by developing a competitive mathematics "game theory," an original idea that contradicts the economic doctrines of Adam Smith. As a result, Nash becomes a rising scientific star. He even secures a research grant at MIT during the peak of the Cold War. But Nash’s life takes a bizarre turn after meeting the mysterious William Parcher (Ed Harris from Enemy at the Gates), who recruits the genius for a dangerous code-breaking assignment.
While lecturing badly to a hall filled with befuddled admirers, Nash bolts and runs. Only when confronted by a psychiatrist (Christopher Plummer from The Insider) does the scientist realize he’s suspected of being mentally ill. Accepting the truth is another thing entirely, and the rest of the film deals not only with the process of separating what is real from long-standing hallucinations and delusions but also with Nash’s controversial decision about how to treat his illness.
I found parts of this Academy Award-winning Best Picture exceptionally well-done and moving, especially scenes depicting Nash’s difficulty fitting in at Princeton, his amusing interactions with a roommate (played superbly by Paul Bettany from A Knight’s Tale), and his surprise at falling in love. My negative reactions stem mainly from my feelings about biopics in general. Nixon and Elizabeth come to mind, but there are many others. In the former, I’m convinced dialogue of at least one character revealed opinions contrary to his true position. I’d be much happier if these films were fictionalized --- with all names changed to protect the guilty. While watching movies like this, I always feel a bit schizophrenic myself. I wonder what’s real and what’s made up. Without a mind as powerful as Nash’s, I can’t seem to overcome this distraction.
(Released by Universal Pictures/DreamWorks and rated "PG-13" for intense thematic material, sexual content, and a scene of violence.)