A Beautiful Mind


It's apparent from the very opening frames of A Beautiful Mind that a lot of genius has gone into making this movie about genius. What first becomes apparent, of course, is the inspired casting of Russell Crowe as the mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., who--50 years ago while he was a graduate student at Princeton--came up with the 'one truly original idea' that would eventually win him a Nobel Prize in economics. It's doubtful that any other living actor could do what Crowe has done with this role. His John Nash is, in turn, funny, endearing, enigmatic, ashamed, frighteningly crazy, loving, full of bravado and, conversely, full of fear--all the while maintaining the off-center charm of a 'mysterious West Virginia genius.' Physically, Crowe seems a near-perfect fit for the young Nash, and, while he may not himself be an intellectual heavyweight, last year's Best Actor Oscar winner (for Gladiator) can convincingly convey both the deep-thinking mode and the mad bursts of inspiration geniuses are prone to.

'Mad' is the operative word here. Nash's career did not proceed directly from 'formulation A,' the development of his revolutionary 'game theory' in 1951, to 'conclusion B,' winning the Nobel prize in 1994. Quite the contrary, for the better part of three decades, Nash suffered from classic schizophrenia. He was as mad as a hatter, hearing voices, talking paranoid nonsense, seeing people who weren't there, unable to stop the antics which were tearing apart his own life and the lives of the people near and dear to him. What is most remarkable about Nash, in real life and in the movie, is that, with the help of psychiatric treatment and medication, he literally forced himself to return to rationality. Although not entirely free of delusions, Nash is now in his mid-70s and functioning "normally," while once again lecturing and writing at Princeton.

A Beautiful Mind makes clear that Nash could never have achieved such a full recovery without the loving support of his long-suffering wife, Alicia, who is sympathetically and intelligently played by the stunning Jennifer Connelly. Some of the film's other leading characters are based on real people, while some of them previously existed only inside of Nash's head. It would spoil the suspense to know in advance who's real and who's not in a cast that includes the mysterious government agent William Parcher (Ed Harris), Nash's lifelong nemesis; Charles, his Princeton roommate (Paul Bettany); his fellow mathematicians Sol (Adam Goldberg), Bender (Anthony Rapp) and Hansen (Josh Lucas); his professor Hellinger (Judd Hirsch) and, last but not least, the not-entirely-trustworthy psychiatrist, Dr. Rosen (Christopher Plummer). All are grand.

Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman has done a masterful job of letting us experience Nash's delusions while, like Nash himself, not knowing they're delusions. And director Ron Howard has devised a brilliantly cinematic way to send us reeling with the joyful headiness of making a discovery of the mind. The best such moment comes when Nash, by then a researcher at MIT, is recruited by the CIA to try to break a Russian code. In an underground bunker where the encoded messages are projected on huge walls, Nash/Crowe stands silently staring as individual letters flash and fade, flash and fade in varying sequence while the camera swirls around him until--yes, he sees the solution. Truly heady stuff.

The book that inspired A Beautiful Mind--and carries the same title--covers much more of the science in which Nash was involved, as well as a lot of messy details about his personal life--his 'special relationships' with other men, his fathering a child by a woman not his wife, his divorce and remarriage to Alicia, his driven meanderings through the academic halls of both the U.S. and Europe while trying to explain ideas only he could understand. But such details were not necessary to cinematically distill the essence of Nash's life--his genius and his madness, which are, perhaps, one and the same. A Beautiful Mind contains all that's needed to tell its rippingly good story--a suspenseful, romantic, gloriously human tale of achievement, suffering and redemption. In this case at least, mathematical genius has inspired moviemaking genius. Yes, A Beautiful Mind is that good.

--Shirley Sealy