Movie Review: "A Beautiful Mind"
Rating: PG-13 (sexual content, scene of violence, and thematic content)
Length: 135 minutes
Release Date: January 4, 2002
Directed by: Ron Howard
Stars: 4 out of 5
John Forbes Nash (Russell Crowe) is a brilliant mathematician who has yet to leave his mark on the academic world he seems to enjoy so much. Not content to stand by and simply teach, he decides that he must transcend the math work he has already done to do something truly brilliant. As he delves deeper into his groundbreaking work in game theory, he begins to exhibit the first signs of what would eventually be diagnosed as schizophrenia. His descent into the disorder is at the center of "A Beautiful Mind," which is based on a true story.
The film shows Nash at various stages as an adult, first as a professor at Princeton, where he meets pretty coed Alicia (Jennifer Connolly), who takes an instant liking to him. He is socially awkward but has enough self awareness to realize his romantic shortcomings. He courts Alicia and eventually marries her, living the seemingly happy life that so many strive for. His initial descent into paranoia begins just as Alicia is happily awaiting the birth of the couple's first child, which is arguably the worse possible timing. Alicia is a devoted woman though, and she won't let her beloved husband go without treatment. Unfortunately, this story takes place in the 1940s, so drugs and treatments weren't as helpful as modern ones are.
Nash takes some pills that help; however, like many with the disorder, he stops taking them when he begins to feel better. This creates a roller coaster of emotional states for him and Alicia to to deal with. He is fine one minute and manic the next, imagining the KGB is sending agents to spy on him. He begins to imagine mathematical patterns where none exist, which only increases his paranoia and makes him almost completely unstable. His work and home life suffer, though Alicia refuses to give up on him. More drastic measures must be taken, including one big decision that Alicia must make that could potentially change both their lives forever. From this lowest of lows, Nash begins to recover in what seems like an almost miraculous turnaround. As he gets better, he begins to see things with a new clarity, one in which he is aware of his condition yet able to overcome it in a decidedly triumphant way. The recovery and acceptance of his new lot in life is at the heart of the story and brings about some of the most emotional scenes in a film full of them.
So many movies about schizophrenia tend to gloss over the really debilitating aspects of the disorder. Most characters depicted with this condition are usually supporting players who don't get enough screen time to make a real study of the disorder worthwhile. In "A Beautiful Mind," the main character has schizophrenia, which forces director Ron Howard to really delve into the depths the afflicted person can sink to. Howard does this without so much as a flinch, giving the audience a crash course in how paranoia and other side effects can really disrupt the lives of these patients and everyone around them.
Although Howard deserves much credit for the film's success, the lion's share should go to Crowe, whose precise, almost unnerving take on Nash allowed Howard to realistically depict the impact of the disorder. Crowe seems to lose himself in the role, turning in a performance that is sure to draw a tear or two out of the audience. The year before "A Beautiful Mind" came out, "Gladiator" was released, a movie that is now synonymous with Crowe's name. An iconic role like that sometimes prevents audiences from fully buying the actor in a different role later. This problem has plagued Jim Carrey his entire career; audiences are so accustomed to his rubber-faced comedic performances that they simply can't see him in a dramatic role. Fortunately, Crowe is such a great actor that he transcends his performance in "Gladiator" and doesn't just play John Nash, he becomes the man.
The rest of the cast is excellent, particularly Connelly as Alicia, a performance that would earn her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She is equal parts strong and vulnerable as Nash's long-suffering wife, who saw the tenderness and greatness in him, even as he inexplicably thought Russians were leaving coded messages for him on the front page of newspapers. Few women would have stuck it out in such conditions, especially with the welfare of a child at stake. The fact that the real-life Alicia stood by Nash might be the most beautiful, if not touching, part of "A Beautiful Mind."