Ossus Library Index Drama Movie Index

A BEAUTIFUL MIND

Directed by Ron Howard (2001, Universal Pictures)
Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Ed Harris

A brilliant mathematician seeks fame and secrecy as he works through his fantasy world of schizophrenia.

 

 

4 stars

August 24th, 2002 on DVD

 
   

A wonderful story, combined with terrific direction and acting, makes this a beautiful movie.

I think the attraction comes in the execution of this film. Yes, the story is really good, but partway through the film, I was tempted to say so what? However, director Ron Howard kept me interested all the way through. And the revelations are on par with those from The Sixth Sense, which makes the whole film worth it.

But even without that, the execution of the film was enjoyable. The story is very serious and tragic, but somehow a lot of humor comes through the characters and situations. We meet John Nash as he ostracizes himself from everybody right away. He is very eccentric, and never uses more steps than necessary to get to where he wants to go. The snippets of his life at Princeton show so many of his eccentricities, and it often takes his room-mate Charles to calm him down -note the scene where they push his desk out of the window!

Somehow, Nash retains his friends, though they seem to hang around him for the entertainment he provides when trying to get women into bed. But it takes those friends and a certain girl and her friends to find him his "original idea", the one that would get him his doctorate and some recognition. Somehow, he also graduates. His spurns classrooms, so he must never have finished the required curriculum. But was he so good in his thesis that they waived the course requirements for him? I can't figure that out.

He also falls in love with one of his students. Actually, it is Alycia who asks him on a date. I suppose the rules about dating a student also don't apply to him. Eventually, though, it must be love, for they continue to date, and then marry. I don't know what she saw in him that made the first attraction, for he was rude and arrogant.

Nash also has a job working for a defense contractor. It is there that he is hired on to a top secret job dealing with a Russian network that has smuggled a portable nuclear bomb onto US soil. He is tasked with breaking codes that are embedded in everyday newspapers and magazines. But when their secret drop box, where he puts his results, is compromised, he is nearly run down, and gets very paranoid. He sends Alycia away, and runs from every stranger, every car door that slams.

And then he is hospitalized, and the world that we have come to know begins to shatter.

The beauty of this movie is how that world shatters. The bomb threat is unlikely to be real. We know that. Still, because this he is dealing with the department of defense, we think it's plausible. But as time goes on, despite his neat gadgets like the arm implant, he seems to be getting more and more out of control, and I began to suspect that some part of it was not real. But I never guessed that the whole thing was part of his mind.

With schizophrenia, the world where he works is very real, and even the (real) psychiatrists are spies. It is only after Alycia begins to research what he has been doing for the last few years that we see what the real world looks like -his office plastered with cut-out magazines, the drop box at an abandoned mansion. And when he can't find his implant, he is finally convinced of his insanity.

Everything up to this point was great. We were so immersed in his work, in the love story between him and Alycia, that we didn't really notice that some of it wasn't real. But it makes sense, from the moment that his boss, William Parcher, walks by the guard, telling him "they know me", leading him to the warehouses that "we were told were abandoned" -and which actually are!

Speaking of the love story, so much of it worked perfectly. Jennifer Connelly was magnificent as the loving but frustrated wife. She gets scared when he starts getting paranoid, but is not frightened or insulted by his direct manner. The early scene in the park, and later, the proposal, are terrific, mainly because she shows her emotions, and is able to work the part so well.

Jennifer Connelly is definitely the beast actor in this film. She holds her own with Russell Crowe, who is good, but this is not the career-defining performance that so many other people seem to see in him. I have not been immensely impressed by his performances, though he did a good job here. Ed Harris is second performance-wise, as he makes a terrific imaginary boss, especially from the department of defense! He was just supportive and angry enough often enough to make us believe that he was real.

The emotional payoff of this movie, however, comes after Nash is released from the hospital. He has trouble coming up with brilliant ideas (not that they were common when he was in Princeton!), but he stays on his medication. And he seems to be getting better. He finally has enough when he can't "respond" to his wife. And although it wasn't stressed in the movie, I think this is when he decided to stop taking the pills. And, of course, he starts to hallucinate again.

But we aren't certain -well, we are certain, but there is enough doubt, because the department of defense is capable of abandoning him for a while, so his "trail" can get cold, and the Russians stop chasing him. It is only when Alycia enters the abandoned shed, when we see all of the newspaper clippings on the walls, that we are absolutely certain. And it's frightening as well, because he is drawing a bath for his young son.

And this is when the second revelation hit me, and shocked me completely. He asks Charles to watch the baby in the tub, but the line is mumbled so that we might not have heard it properly. But I came to the realization just before alycia told him: Charles is not real either! John lived alone at Princeton -he never had a room-mate! But only when John realizes that Charles' niece Marcee never gets older, does everything click into place. Other people may have seen the revelation, but I missed it completely!

After John shoved Alycia out of the way, to save her from Parcher's gun, she was so afraid that she almost got him sent to the hospital again. But his love for her shines through, and as a result, she shows her love as well, culminating in the terrific, wonderful, bathroom scene where they vow to fight the disease together, with love and hope.

And that pulls him through. It's difficult, and he fails sometimes, but he eventually gets enough control that he can ignore the hallucinations, which are with him for life, it seems. And with new medications (we're into the late 1970s to 1990s now), and love and support, he is able to rejoin society, at least in part. The climax of the film comes in the library, when a student essentially asks for his support in his own original idea. And, of course, he wins the Nobel Prize.

I've done enough research to know that this is a work of fiction, that it barely touches on the real life of John Nash, and completely ignores many, many parts of his life and attitude, and went the sappy road to happiness. But I don't care. I watched the movie for the story, not for a biography. The math was interesting, for the small snippets that we saw, even though I had no idea what he was talking about. The directing was also terrific, and the acting was very good, as well. Ron Howard outdid himself with the cinematic scale of this film. It never slowed down for a moment, even in the quiet and tender moments.

The music was standout, in a piece that I didn't know would need music. It was very interesting every time Nash goes into a trance, working on his theories. It was very thematic, with recurring notes and harmonies for the different aspects of the film. And the end credits song was very haunting. 

But what blew me away were the special effects, believe it or not. I absolutely loved the way the numbers stood out from the screens and pages at him, the way he wrote on the windows, figuring out his governing dynamics (especially the mention of the mugging, which was hilarious).

The DVD version of this film has a lot of extras, and most of them are worth watching. So much of what Ron Howard had to say was so interesting. There was not much behind-the-scenes footage; most of it was interviews, but for the most part, it was enough. Only when watching it all back to back does it get a little tiring.

The mini-feature Inside a Beautiful Mind was pure advertising, and was only somewhat worth watching. The trailer was also somewhat lackluster, which is probably why it took me so long to see the film. But I really enjoyed listening to and watching the mini-feature on the special effects. This guy was a great speaker, and I think this is the way special effects features should be shown -he took us through the baby in the bathtub scene, letting the computer generated image roll onto the screen layer by layer. I know they did something similar with the waterfall in The Phantom Menace, but this was better -so much better.

The storyboards did nothing for me; I barely watched a few seconds of those. And I didn't even sample the director's commentary (actually, there are two commentaries). Finally, the deleted scenes were quite interesting themselves, especially Ron Howard's commentary on them. It makes me think that his director's commentary would have been interesting, but I don't normally like to re-watch a movie immediately.

What more can I say? Everybody did a great job in their roles. The cinematography was brilliant. I do think Ron Howard likes subtitles too much -we knew it was Princeton by the end of the film- the year would have been enough. He did the same thing with Apollo 13. Ah, well. Russell Crowe seemed to mumble a lot, as well. I know that he was supposed to be muttering to himself, but we were supposed to hear him without straining. But Connelly was extremely strong in her role, and definitely deserved her Academy Award. (Did the movie? I'm not allowed to say, because I am way to partial to another contender to judge fairly.)

Definitely, this was a really good movie. It is a very well-made look into what is potentially going on inside a sick man's head, and puts us in his position when that reality is taken away. For that experience alone, it is worth watching.

 
   

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