Directed by Ron Howard.
Running Time: 134 mins
Rated: MA 15+
For centuries mental illness has been a rich vein for literature and film. Films like "One flew over the cuckoo's nest", "Frances" "Rain Man" and "Quills" are recent attempts to portray the reality of living and treating someone with an organised neurosis. Two developments mark out A Beautiful Mind from it predecessors. The first is that it does not overly concentrate on the institutionalisation of John Nash (Crowe). Second, we know this story has a relatively happy ending before it begins.
From his earliest years Nash is a brilliant mathematician. As an undergraduate at Princeton University he demonstrates a prodigious ability and some bizarre behaviour. He is seen as an eccentric genius. Shortly after marrying Alicia (Connelly) and being asked to work for military intelligence, his mental health deteriorates quickly. Upon being institutionalised, the audience begins to discover just how unwell Nash is. On his release from hospital he returns home, and though his behaviour indicates the need for further hospitalisation, Alicia cannot recommit
Together they work at getting him well enough to return to Princeton to research and teach. The Nobel Prize is a crowning moment for the extraordinary achievements and breakthroughs both of them have had on many fronts.
A Beautiful Mind might play with some of the facts of Nash's life but it convincingly tells a powerful story from Nash's perspective. It is so brilliantly structured that the audience accepts Nash's delusions as the real story and is empathetic to him when he disbelieved. Russell Crowe is outstanding as Nash and Connelly is stunning as Alicia. Christopher Plumber plays a 1950's physiatrist to a tee and Ed Harris puts in another finely judged performance as William Harcher, Nash's CIA manager.
The scenes in the psychiatric hospital, where Nash receives insulin treatment and later attempts suicide will deeply disturb some viewers. My only gripe with A Beautiful Mind is the role the screenplay gives to self-control. For any of us who have a mental illness, live with those who do or know them, it is a false and dangerous idea to promote that schizophrenic delusions, for example, can be managed through self-control and will power. While it may play a part, the film has Nash rejecting his pills, staging unmedicated wrestling bouts with his delusions and coming out on top. I know no schizophrenics who, in similar circumstances, have had similar outcomes.
This does not take away from Ron Howard's overall work on A Beautiful Mind, which is so magnificently realised, that by the end of the film there won't be a dry eye in the house.
Richard Leonard SJ