A Beautiful Mind Reviews
I tried watching this film 2 years ago and I just couldn't get through the first 40 minutes. I thought that the director, Ron Howard, was just making this film as an excuse to bring a real-life Sheldon Cooper-esque scientist to life, so he could be sexist and mock socially inept people. But I finally gave the film another shot. This time, I was determined to make it through the whole thing. The first hour was still filled with the male gaze, where soon to be Doctor, John Nash, was given a free pass for his patriarchal notions because he was just an "awkward (yet loveable) scientist." But soon you learn the harsh reality of the real-life Dr. John Nash. Dr. Nash suffered from schizophrenia (paranoia), which went untreated for the first thirty years or so of his life, until it became unbearable, not only for him, but those around him. We, as the audience, realize that the first act (or the first hour) of Howard's film was to set us up for a punch to the gut, as well as the heart.
I cried throughout the end of this film because of how many emotions I experienced. First, there's disgust at how sexist they make him in the film, but also at how much he's bullied for being an introvert. Secondly, there's intrigue at how his life took such a curious turn. All bets are off. Thirdly, there's the reveal. Not just realizing that he has schizophrenia, but at the horrors of 1950s and 1960s mental health care. Lastly, there's the happy ending, which is only semi warranted. Yes, he won the Nobel Prize for economics in real life, but they choose to end it with that, and not on the fact that he still battles with his mental illness, as well as his son's. Without further ado, the prodigal review returns!
The film centers around Dr. John Nash, a doctorate student at Princeton. At first, he seems like a loner, and perhaps is suffering from some case of autism or Asperger's. He has no friends, except his imaginary friend/roommate - Charles. His acquaintances think he's strange, but as long as they can make fun of him, they keep him around. After coming up with his doctorate thesis, he and two of his acquaintances go to MIT Wheeler labs to work. One day, he's invited to the Pentagon to decode a message from the Russians. He's able to solve it and that's when his mental illness starts to get the better of him. He starts thinking he's a messenger, out of the need to be recognized as super intelligent, do something important, and because he's extremely keen at finding patterns. He just can't help but see them everywhere. And that just fuels his belief that he has a special mission to save the U.S. That, and the fact that the U.S. is in the height of the cold war and the red scare has taken over his mind. Nash also teaches at MIT. There, he meets his future wife Alicia. They get married and everything seems fine, until Nash's schizophrenia becomes crippling, not only for him, but for his wife and baby. He's involuntarily committed to an institution. In the film, it appears that his insulin shock treatments are voluntary since he realizes that his hallucinations and voices aren't real. We may never know the true story, but that's how they portray it in the film. We also see that he starts taking medicine on and off after he's released. In the film, we see the pills and medication as debilitating. He's slow and sluggish when he takes them, as opposed to jumpy. But as "pill technology" gets better, he starts to take them again and feel better (in the film). By the end, he can ignore his hallucinations (because the red scare is over and he's no longer needed as a messenger) and he is a respected professor at Princeton. He even wins the Nobel prize in economics.
The film ends on a happy and inspirational note. And indeed, it is for many people. But it's also important to discover the truth. Though Nash didn't approve of the film or book himself, he did say that it would help start the conversation about mental illness (2009 Al Jazeera interview).
Let's talk about the performances. I think Russell Crowe does a phenomenal job, not as Nash himself, but just being a believable actor. I see Nash, not Crowe. He's dramatic and over the top, subtle yet awkward, emotionless when he needs to be, and just overall great at interacting with his surroundings. It looks as though he fits right in at Princeton, MIT, and with the government. The makeup artists also deserve a lot of credit for aging him, making him look depleted and sleep deprived, as well as mistreated and sick. He sells their image beautifully, even if that image is sort of contrived. Look, "I can control my mental illness with the use of drugs (even though I didn't in real life)." Nash said that the progression of time was warped, which it is, but I think the movie illustrates it well without annoying time cards at the end of every era. There are time cards spaced evenly throughout the film, and most of the time you can tell the passing of time with his hair or clothing. I also think Ed Harris does a great job as Parcher, basically, A Beautiful Mind's Man in Black (Westworld reference). He's so over dramatic and there. His urgency, presence, and the way he sells the illusion to us, and Nash is incredible. Less can be said with Jennifer Connelly as Alicia. Not only was she supposed to be from El Salvador, but she always gives these blank expressions that look like she was uninterested in the film, or just gazing off into space. I know that was supposed to be her confused look, but even her confused look managed to look bored. The real Alicia Nash went on from being one of the small percentage of women studying at MIT, to an aerospace engineer at RCA, and a system programmer at Con Edison, and later, a data analyst for NJ Transit.
I'm assuming that Howard's intention with this film was to raise awareness about mental illnesses and how horribly mental illness patients were treated in the 50s and 60s. However, little is mentioned about how mental illness patients are still mistreated, and the stigma that still goes along with them. Though Nash in the film suffered from bullying and skepticism about his work (due to his mental illness), he did triumph over some hurdles by being extremely intelligent naturally and having some credibility before being publicly diagnosed. The film does save face by stating he was extremely privileged through his family connections. He wouldn't have gotten to be where he was without his brains, but also being a white male. Though in the film they say he was awarded a scholarship/grant and was estranged from his family, in reality, his family helped a lot when it came to getting him into the right schools to expand his innate mathematical genius. In addition, because of the already established stereotype/trope of the "mad genius," his madness wasn't seen as "that bad." Though it was to him, it could be a privilege compared to lesser educated people who have mental illnesses and are just seen as "crazy street mumblers."
The beginning of the film is also kind of insufferable. It's extremely sexist when talking about women. They're only seen as objects to have sex with, to be had, or won, not individuals. I guess it plays into the whole Ivy league male stereotype - even though they're nerds, because they have the prestige of going to one of the best colleges in the country, they're the epitome of manliness. Therefore, they're misogynists, and of course, they all want "the blonde." The women barely have any names. The jokes in the first act are also based on Nash's social ineptitude with women, just like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.
The second act, when we see Nash working for the government and the film really comes together. This is when I think that the film is brilliant. We see what Nash sees, so it's hard during the reveal to believe that he's mentally ill. We still think that the psychiatrist is a Russian spy, because everything has been from Nash's viewpoint and we trust him. We never thought of him as an unreliable narrator because of how innocently smart he was. We got scared with Nash that he was being followed, we got scared when he went to drop off his classified documents, and we really thought he was helping the government find a portable H-Bomb being brought to the U.S. by the Russians. I think that was the genius of the film. It's when the reveal happens, we're still on Nash's side, until his wife takes over and we see that he was suffering from delusions. It proves how easily it is to be sucked into film, but also how trusting we are of narrators when we only get one POV.
I guess if the film was to be called "inspirational" or "starting a conversation," it could illustrate how seemingly simple Asperger's can turn into so much more if untreated or undetected. At first, we just see Crowe's portrayal of Nash as comical. And that should be a huge shame on us as the audience. In fact, one later scene in the third act shows Nash's own audience (college students at Princeton) mocking the way he walks. Maybe that's Howard's use of turning the blame on us. And that's perhaps, where it should be. We didn't know where this film was taking us, we were laughing because socially awkward people are shunned and dismissed. But in reality, he was suffering and we couldn't see it. But maybe that's the point. The film shows how mental illness can be born not only psychologically, but out of social situations.
I also liked in the end that the guy we thought was the bully, turns out to be his friend at Princeton and a helpful colleague later in his life. He even defends and protects Nash from being bullied by his own students. Illustrating that people can change, and that people care about Nash and want to help him.
Of course, the film is about and stars a white southerner, who's rich and privileged, and a genius/gentleman. Of course, his story gets told. But his privilege doesn't dismiss the importance of his story. At the same time, it's important to remember that we should also talk about lower class, and other types of mentally ill people. We should acknowledge that mental illness, isn't solved in a few hours, or by a few pills, as Nash himself said. Despite the flaws in the film, the actors deserve a lot of credit. Though Crowe himself doesn't have schizophrenia, portraying mental illness isn't the same as portraying race. It would be cruel and an unethical punishment to make an actor with schizophrenia pretend to see the illusions and go through scenarios of another schizophrenic. I can't speak for schizophrenic people, there may be someone who would love to play Nash. This is just my opinion as an ally, and please correct me if I'm wrong. Crowe did his best, and I think it shows. I also liked how it started the conversation about mental illness, but sadly, cut it short.
Overall, I give the film an 8/10. Though it's highly inaccurate, go see it knowing the inaccuracies, and decide for yourself whether this film is one of the best of the 21st century. Hopefully in the future, films portraying the lives and needs of lower class mentally ill people will be made.
The watching this film for the first time, it feels like three completely different films throughout its three act structure. The first act feels more like it's going to be a movie in the same vein as Good Will Hunting, only to become a much more thrilling film, dealing with a nuclear bomb investigation throughout its second, eventually throwing the audience through a loop, making them wonder if anything they had just seen really happened at all. Once you've seen A Beautiful Mind, the surprises won't ever be there again, but the emotion is still very much present and worth watching over and over again. Russell Crowe is a revelation throughout this movie, plain and simple.
Plain and simple, this film wouldn't have worked as well without a performance as devoted as Russell Crowe's. His mannerisms and the way he's able to fall in love with Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), is truly what transcends the film, making it as emotional as it is when the final act begins. His performances sucks you in from the very beginning and never lets you go, having you feel completely invested in this real-life character that had gone and still continues to go through this until the day the film was released. Across the board, this film is so well-acted, that it would've even been effective with a terrible screenplay, but that's just not the case at all.
When it comes to screenwriting, it's very hard to make even the most realistic dialogue naturally flow as if you're watching something unfold in reality, but this is one of the few films that will always remain in my memory as a movie with a perfect screenplay. From the moments that need you to feel for each character in order to hold your interest, to the subtle moments that talk about love in great detail, to the seemingly overdone scientific subplots, once all is revealed in this film, everything falls into place perfectly, leaving nothing else to be desired, at least for myself.
From performances, to superb direction by Ron Howard, to a script that will have those invested in tears, to a score that pulled me right into every moment, A Beautiful Mind won all of those awards for a reason. Looking back on this movie, nothing stands out as dated, even though it's only about 16 years old. If you've yet to view this film, I can't recommend it enough, especially to those who are fans of the dramatic side of filmmaking. I whole-heartedly love this movie for all of these reasons and then some. It's stylistic editing choices and use of on-set effects help this film feel even more authentic than it's script would've already allowed it to, so I have nothing to complain about in retrospect. This is a beautiful movie.
The first time I watched A Beautiful Mind I was blown away by it. Not only did I think all of the actors did a tremendous job sinking their teeth into each role, but I couldn't believe how fascinating John Nash's life was. This is a man was a student at Princeton and made significant contributions to the world of mathematics and economics (including proposing several theories and equations), all while being diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.
Russell Crowe gives one of his best performances as John Nash, in what also may be his most challenging. Crowe has to make it believable that he's both one of the brightest minds in the world but also someone who is seriously struggling with mental illness. He has great chemistry with his love interest, Alicia Nash, played by Jennifer Connelly. In fact, I think this film is a better romance than it is a biopic. Connelly, who won an Oscar for playing Alicia, is a revelation here. She had impressed in previous films, but there's something about her balancing the sweetness of Alicia's personality with her turmoil filled personal life.
I think the main issue with A Beautiful Mind is its pace. At 138 minutes, it's right about at the length of your usual bio-drama, but it doesn't feel like it. The film moves at a really slow pace, especially before we realize what Nash is going through mentally. Part of the reason for this is that I found it hard to approach the complexities of his work. The story is interesting, but I can't say I knew exactly what was going on half the time. If the film would have found a way to make all the equations and theories dumbed down for the general audience, the film would have felt much smoother.
Overall, the film is well done. I love James Horner's score, Roger Deakin's cinematography is beautiful, as is the romance between Connelly and Crowe, but I think it lacks in re-watchability and pacing.
-But difficult to follow at times