A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind posterRated PG-13
Running Time: 129 Minutes
Directed by Ron Howard
Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman
Based on the book by Sylvia Nasar


As my mother would say, “It’s a weepy.” Like all melodramas, it’s engineered to make you cry and then feel good again as you watch the power of the human spirit overcome a dreadful obstacle. Usually, melodramas are not my cup of tea, but this one was surprisingly good.

The film is based on the true story of John Nash, who won a Nobel Prize for economics in 1994 despite his agonizing struggles with schizophrenia. (Interesting that Ron Howard portrayed Nash as primarily a mathematician and not an economist. Perhaps it’s easier to empathize with a mathematician since we’ve all done math…)

The screenplay has been criticized for leaving out details about Nash’s life. Chief amongst the exclusions are Nash’s alleged homosexual relationships. However, adapting a biography to screenplay form isn’t easy. You simply cannot keep all the information from a 300-500 page book within the confines of a 120 page screenplay. Also, portraying earlier love relationships (homosexual or otherwise) would have detracted from the story of Nash’s primary relationship with Alicia (played by Jennifer Connelly), who was certainly the love of his life.

I was pleasantly surprised by this film. I expected to give it a big thumbs down, but the story was well structured (if a bit predictable) and the acting was superb. Russell Crowe (“Hollywood Confidential,” “The Insider,” and “Gladiator”) gives a powerful performance as Nash, and Jennifer Connelly, who I first noticed with “The Rocketeer” in 1991, has finally come into her own. At first I thought she was just a Betty Page look-alike, but her performance in “Requiem For A Dream” (2001), and now, “A Beautiful Mind,” have shown her true talent.


1947. John Nash arrives at Princeton on scholarship from West Virginia. There are other scholarship winners there as well. All of them are prodigies. But Nash still doesn’t fit in. While everyone else takes their classes seriously and tries to socialize, Nash skips classes and stays locked up in his room trying to think of AN ORIGINAL IDEA. He spends his time charting seemingly random events and trying to find a hitherto unknown structure within their movements. Using magic marker on his dorm room window, he carefully diagrams the movements of squirrels on the campus lawn. When a woman has her purse stolen, instead of calling for help, he chronicles their chase as it winds across campus.

The ORIGINAL IDEA eludes Nash until one night in a bar. There, he realizes that it is not always best for all men to strive for the biggest prize. If all of his college friends attempt to take home the same beautiful girl, then they will block each others attempts, and consequently have no recourse because they will have offended the girls who became their second choices. Nash urges everyone to ignore the beautiful girl and go for the other girls. His theory is that the other girls will be so flattered that they were the first pick that they will certainly go home with his friends and everyone will get laid. The other guys think this is a scam of Nash’s to get the most beautiful girl, so it doesn’t play out, but the idea is solid.

When Nash puts this down in mathematical terms, he not only secures a future, but lays the groundwork for the next century or so of economic theory. It was for this bar room insight that he later won the Nobel Prize. Or, so Ron Howard would like us to believe. Maybe it didn’t actually occur to Nash over a beer, but the scene is humorous, and Howard uses some good director tricks to show a first person perspective of how the idea came to be.

Nash is given a research facility and hired to teach at Princeton. There, he meets a new student, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), who later becomes his wife.

About this time, however, Nash’s schizophrenia starts to kick into full gear. He actually sees people who aren’t there. This also happens to be the time of the Red Scare and many of Princeton’s elite brains are being used by the government to help stop the commie threat. So, Nash’s paranoia and hallucinations seem almost normal and he goes undiagnosed and unmedicated for way too long.

Howard does a good job of showing us the rationale of Nash’s paranoia and when Nash realizes he has been hallucinating, after being confined to a mental hospital, it is an epiphany for us, the audience, as well.

The last third of the film is the long road back for Nash. The drugs he is given for schizophrenia cloud his mind and make it hard for him to do his mathematical theorizing. However, through Alicia’s love (and better drugs as the years went on) Nash is finally able to return to Princeton, where he still teaches today.

At the end, Russell Crowe (aged about 25 years like in “The Insider”), re-enacts Nash’s acceptance of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Stockholm. For many years he was considered just a mumbling old man, but at the end, he finally gets the recognition he deserves.