- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

"A Beautiful Mind," the movie version of a somewhat surprising 1998 best seller, makes an intriguing and touching attempt to suggest the vulnerabilities and recuperative powers of an exceptional intellect.
The life and career of professor John Forbes Nash Jr. were marred by a severe mental breakdown, which began in 1959, when he was a 30-year-old faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Actor Russell Crowe plays the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician.
Readers will be privy to some conspicuous fudging of dates and circumstances in the movie, which draws its material from Sylvia Nasar's biography of the same title. The heavily fictionalized elements in the film, directed by Ron Howard from a screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, reflect a need to depict irrational states of mind in a cinematically suspenseful and effective way. It's also a melodramatically deceptive way.
Mr. Nash's crisis in the movie occurs in 1953 and suggests that the shadow of the Cold War played a pivotal role in clouding the mind of a mathematical genius. The book is interesting in part for its glimpses into the culture of such institutions as Princeton University, the Rand Corp. and MIT in the years after World War II. However, Mr. Nash's distress probably had more to do with self-inflicted tensions and his sense of rivalry with peers while struggling to crack enduring mathematical puzzles before he aged much beyond 30.
That milestone was regarded superstitiously as a turning point by some intellectuals, who believed that mental powers were at their zenith when people reached their late 20s. At the time he started to "act funny," Mr. Nash appeared to think he was in communication with aliens and needed to promote world government.
Although the movie takes considerable liberties with the truth of the professor's paranoid-schizophrenic descent, it manages to make this process look rather novel within the traditions of Hollywood fiction. For example, it avoids much of the hysterical and indignant emphasis that prevailed from roughly "The Snake Pit" through "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Frances."
Mr. Crowe pretends to undergo insulin-shock treatments at one ominous juncture, and the simulation is suitably painful. The hero has a struggle on his hands that requires some drastic remedies, and he acknowledges that he needs medication and must keep a vigilant guard against delusional temptations.
The delusions also have a distinctive cinematic manifestation, and to reveal much about what Mr. Howard and his colleagues do to insinuate and authenticate them would be unsporting.
The factual slackness and social oversimplification of the film are finessed in popular terms by an appealing love story. Generously ignoring a few unsavory chapters in the love life of the authentic Mr. Nash, the filmmakers succeed in reawakening some of the vintage sentimental appeal of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," with Princeton as the eventual haven for an academic couple whose marriage demands exceptional loyalty and perseverance.
Jennifer Connelly catches up with the kind of winning role that has eluded her for way too long as she plays Mr. Nash's steadfast spouse, who enters as a graduate student in math at MIT. (The real Alicia Larde was one of two women in her class who pursued a master's degree in the field about 45 years ago.)
Mr. Crowe who had "A Beautiful Mind" in the works while winning his Oscar for "Gladiator" never seems at home with the West Virginia origins of John Nash, and it's difficult for the filmmakers to establish a comfort zone between intimations of tormented genius and an audience willing to grant generous benefits of the doubt.
Maybe the conception needs some sneaky-funny affinities of the kind Jack Nicholson exaggerated in "The Shining."
TITLE: "A Beautiful Mind"
RATING: R (Thematic material dealing with mental derangement, occasional profanity, sexual allusions and graphic violence)
CREDITS: Directed by Ron Howard. Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, based on the biography of the same title by Sylvia Nasar. Cinematography by Roger Deakins; production design by Wynn P. Thomas; costume design by Rita Ryack; music by James Horner.
RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes

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