A Beautiful Mind

2001, Movie, PG-13, 130 mins


Inspired by the tumultuous life of mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., who in 1994 won a Nobel Prize in economic science after a lifetime of battling schizophrenic delusions, this film's core is its vivid evocation of the ravages of chronic mental illness. West Virginia-native Nash (Russell Crowe) entered Princeton University's graduate mathematics department in 1948, when the discipline carried a whiff of post-war glamour: Mathematicians filled the ranks of WWII code breakers and helped win the war. Nash was handsome and brilliant; his arrogance and social awkwardness were tolerated for the sake of his penetrating intelligence. Within a span of 10 years, Nash produced a pioneering paper on game theory; formed a lifelong friendship with his roommate, the easy-going Charles (Paul Bettany); accepted a prestigious teaching and research position at MIT; was recruited for a top-secret cryptology project by the U.S. government; saw his theories begin to gain favor with economists; married Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), a physics student; and was about to become a father when his mind came crashing down in a shower of schizophrenic delusions. Only some of these facts are true, but director Ron Howard presents Nash's delusions in an absolutely straightforward manner, obscuring the precise moment at which his perception of the world diverges from objective reality. Sure, Nash's secret work for the government edges into The X-Files, but within the context of Cold War-era paranoia about Communist sleeper agents and Russian atomic conspiracies, it's far from preposterous. When we finally realize just how extensive his delusions are, and how early in the film's narrative they were introduced, it's a genuine shock. The success of this effect, which helps elevate the movie above a classy disease-of-the-week saga, rests firmly on Russell Crowe's performance, and it's a strikingly good and moving one. But though based on Sylvia Nasar's biography of the same name, the movie shouldn't be taken for Nash's life story: Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman cheerfully admits that "most of the things that happen in the movie didn't happen in John's life." And many things happened in Nash's life that aren't in the movie, presumably in the interests of focusing on Nash's battle to wrest some functional sanity from the fog of illness. In real life, Nash had extramarital affairs with men and women and fathered an illegitimate child; he fled to Europe on several occasions and became convinced he was in contact with aliens. And at the height of his illness, Alicia divorced him, and then took him in when he was reduced to wandering the streets, unkempt and delusional; they remarried in 2001. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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