Beautiful Mind
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A Beautiful Mind

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I never would have guessed that a film chronicling the life of a paranoid, schizophrenic math genius would be so fascinating. Normally, this would be a boring film but when you take a great director, a cast that knows their craft and a writer that can tell a good story the results are a film destined to be a classic. John Nash (Russell Crowe) is a man very different from his fellow math grad students. He suffers not only from schizophrenia but also a strong case of hubris. He looks down on not only his fellow students but also much of the world at large. When he is accepted to Princeton as a doctorate fellow he feels that classes are beneath him. While the other students are publishing paper after paper Nash is searching for the one truly inventive idea that will set him apart from other mathematicians. To this end he watches pigeons fighting for breadcrumbs, football games and any other mundane activity that should be random, searching for patterns. That is the real gift that Nash has. He can see patterns in anything. The only person that approaches being a friend to Nash is his roommate Charles (Paul Bettany). Charles is the complete opposite of Nash, flamboyant, extroverted and on the verge of being hedonistic. Nash’s lack of social skills is painfully obvious during an attempt to pick up a girl in a bar. He asks for ‘intercourse’ and ‘an exchange of bodily fluids’, a real charmer! During one of these sessions in a bar Nash comes up with a theory that denounces 150 years of economic theory, which secures his place in the upper strata of the math community. It also places him in a think tank in MIT that is often used by the Department of Defense. Once there, a DOD agent who wants him to scan magazines for hidden Russian messages approaches Nash. About this time the non-social Nash meets a young woman Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) that actually can overlook Nash’s mannerisms and love him. This is what really sets this film apart; there is a real life love story at the core of the film. There is a thin line between genius and madness, one that John Nash had to tread his whole life. Yet. The one stabilizing aspect of his life was his wife Alicia. She stood by him through the depths of his insanity, never faltering in her love for John Nash, the human being. What you see here is a man whose mind was able to help humanity yet it was trapped by such powerful hallucinations that he had to consciously fight to hold on to reality.

This film showcases some of the most powerful talent in Hollywood today. Russell Crowe is an extremely versatile actor. He can give an Oscar level performance in every genre from action to serious drama. In Beautiful Mind Crowe uses everything from facial ticks to little tremors in his hands to show the progression of Nash’s disease. In contrast to the bold, self-empowered leader of Gladiator, here Crowe is hunched over, eyes avoiding others and hands darting about to release his nervous energy. He brings humanity to Nash. This is required in a role like this in order to make the audience care about Nash. After all, why should we care about this genius with enough mental illnesses to make a whole week on Oprah. Crowe permits us to identify with a person that we otherwise may not. Jennifer Connelly gives a performance that got her a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actress. She provides the human side to the equation of Nash’s life. As Alicia she looks beyond the anti-social quirks and manifestations of Nash’s disease. She sees the ‘beautiful mind’ that lies beneath the schizophrenia. Since this story depends on the love story that holds its together actors like Crowe and Connelly provide the chemistry to make the audience stay riveted to the screen.

I have been a long time fan of director Ron Howard. He is almost exactly a year younger than me. For a six-year-old kid watching TV he was a character on the little screen that I could identify with. Now that he has grown into one of the best directors around I still follow his work. I have never been disappointed with one of Howard’s films. He is not afraid to take on a new genre or push the envelope a bit. Here the danger would have been to rely too heavily on special effects to show what is going on in Nash’s head. Apart from the swirling numbers on the pages Nash studies we the audience sees things through the reality of Nash’s mind. Howard also makes incredible use of sound in this film. The voices dart around the room reflecting the confusion in this man’s mind. The attention to detail is a hallmark of Howard’s work. There are little things like cracks in some steps, the disarray of Nash’s room, all pull together to give you a real feel for this man.

While many films are being released on DVD with two-disc set few deserve this attention. Beautiful Mind does. The Dolby 5.1 sound is incredible. The sounds ebb and flow around the room reflecting the altered reality suffered by Professor Nash. Typical of Ron Howard attention is paid to the slightest details in the audio track, a bird chipping, a door closing, each sound adding to the tapestry of this film. The video is equally up to these standards pushing the bar for reference quality DVDs. The first disc contains an audio commentary from Ron Howard and another from screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. There are also several deleted scenes with optional director’s comments. Disc two just adds to the enjoyment. There are numerous features including one that focuses on the real John and Alicia Nash, a featurette on how they aged these actors and how the screenplay developed. Also on the second disc is the scoring process and storyboards. In all this is a set to own and enjoy over and over. The acting, direction, writing and extras show how to present a film and how to produce a DVD. This is a must have for any collector of extraordinary films.

Posted 6/1/02

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