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A Beautiful Mind

Brilliant mathematicians must all be nuts. Or at least filmmakers think so. How else can you explain Darren Aronofsky’s Pi or David Auburn’s Proof or Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s Good Will Hunting. The ultimate nutty math professor movie happens to be a true story however, and was Russell Crowe’s second consecutive best picture winner, A Beautiful Mind.

Crowe plays Dr. John Nash, the man who came up with Bargaining Theory and Game Theory. And Crowe is only part of a very talented cast, with Adam Goldberg and Anthony Rapp playing buddies from college, Josh Lucas playing a rival mathematician, Jennifer Connelly playing Nash’s wife, and Ed Harris and Paul Bettany playing Nash’s imaginary friends. You see, along with being a brilliant mathematician, Nash was also schizophrenic. The movie deals with this brilliantly, as we see Nash’s roommate Charles and the mysterious government spook Parcher as just more people passing through Nash’s life. What neither Nash nor us realize at first is that these people are just products of his troubled mind. Upon re-watching this movie and knowing who is real and who isn’t, you can see that the producers smartly choreographed those entering and exiting the scene. Charles goes for more beer at the bar leaving Nash to play pool by himself right before another group comes in and jokes that Nash is playing by himself. Nash yells after Parcher who is out the door before Nash’s friend Sol pops his head out of his office door.

The imaginary characters are more interesting than the real ones, and maybe that’s the point. Charles pops up whenever Nash needs some encouragement, advise, or just needs to get out into society. Parcher serves the opposite purpose. He pops up to drag Nash down when things seem comfortable, but also to provide some excitement, turning Nash’s life into a spy movie. That’s not to say the real people in Nash’s life are boring, but we simply don’t get to know them well. They pop in and provide a vision of what normal math geniuses look like, but Nash limits his interaction with them to a point, because he is a bit awkward with them, and hey, with imaginary friends like that, who needs real ones.

The only character other than Nash we really get to know is Alicia. This is just as much her story as it is his, and we see her agonizing over how to deal with his mental illness. However when she tells Sol about her guilt over wanting to leave, the whole thing takes on a somewhat creepy vibe with the insinuation that Sol is trying to put the moves on Nash’s wife. The movie of course conveniently skips over much of their relationship, like when she divorced him in 1963, and took him back to share the rent more than anything in 1970, only to remarry him in 2001.

Crowe is remarkably good here, as he portrays a man who progressively worsens from a stammering, standoffish grad student into a professor who is truly falling apart, to an older professor who can control his delusions. Crowe hits every note, from Nash’s West Virginia accent to his stiff walk to his inability to look others in the eye for long.

For all its wonderful aspects, and there are many, there are some shortcomings. The movie focuses almost entirely on mental illness, while giving only some mention of Nash’s contributions to economics and mathematics. Sure, I wouldn’t understand 99% of the math, but it would be nice to see just what the subject of the movie contributed to modern society. Game theory is only mentioned in passing, and it was one of the biggest breakthroughs of his career.

Other nominees that year included the very good Gosford Park, the somewhat good Lord of the Rings; Fellowship of the Ring, and Moulon Rouge and In the Bedroom, which were also movies released in 2001. Meanwhile if the Academy wanted to look outside the US for a best picture winner, they had many good choices, like Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain, No Man’s Land, and Nirgendwo in Afrika. Some American movies that could have been considered were Ali, Shrek, Ghost World, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Memento. Movies that should have never been considered for release, let alone awards, included Pearl Harbor and Donnie Darko (and I know that list is going to draw the ire of a small subset of devoted, yet delusion film fans. I am referring, of course, to Josh Hartnett fans). So in all this was a very good year for movies, and one in which a well-made, well-acted, but somewhat flawed film about a mad doctor should not have snuck through. I could put my vote behind about a half dozen movies from 2001, and A Beautiful Mind is not on that list of finalists. As witty as Gosford Park was, as funny as Shrek was, as innovative as Memento was, as dramatic as No Man’s Land was, as beautifully shot as Nirgendwo in Afrika was, the one movie that had it all was Amelie. There had never been a movie quite like Amelie, though some others have tried to imitate it since. The colors are vivid, the acting superb, and by the end you are rooting so much for her to find love you wouldn’t have gotten out of bed the next day if it ended differently. A Beautiful Mind is pretty good, but it’s no Amelie.


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