A Beautiful Mind

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A Beautiful Mind is a film based on the life of John Forbes Nash Jr. (played by Russell Crowe), a Nobel Prize winning economist and mathematician. The film follows his life from the beginnings of his graduate degree to the winning of his Nobel Prize, with an awful lot of turbulence in between – everything gets a bit messy when he is hired to work as a code breaker, deciphering Soviet plots for the American authorities, and John Nash feels increasingly under threat and surrounded by enemies. As well as being a genius, it is revealed in the film that John Nash suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and has difficulty recognising what’s real and what’s a product of his illness.

I enjoyed the film a lot. It was quite fast paced and I was genuinely taken in by the twists in the plot because I knew nothing about John Forbes Nash Jr., and so was not expecting the mental illness storyline. Even when it was made clear that he was suffering from some kind of mental breakdown, it was still a real shock to me to discover exactly which characters were hallucinations. I thought the plot twists were great, but at the heart of the film there was a very sweet love story of a wife trying to help her husband to overcome his illness, and a man struggling to quiet his troubled mind and rebuild his life at the university. There were some very touching scenes of John receiving the pens of the fellows at his university as a mark of respect, and students coming to him for help with their studies instead of avoiding or mocking him as the crazy man who talks to shadows. It was the whole package – there was loads of suspense and thriller-style aspects to the film, but there was also a heart-warming love story and everything was rounded off nicely with a happy ending.

However, in terms of the real John Forbes Nash Jr., I feel like too many artistic liberties were taken in A Beautiful Mind to make this a fair portrayal. I knew nothing about the real John Nash when I watched the film, but I’ve since found out more about his life and what I’ve discovered has made me feel a bit unsettled by the narrative of the film. There are so many quibbles and inaccuracies, most of which are fairly minor, but what bothers me most is the portrayed relationship of John Nash and his wife Alicia. One of the most poignant scenes in A Beautiful Mind is John’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, where he basically gushes about Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) being the love of his life and being amazing for supporting him during troubled years and the like, but in reality Alicia divorced John after only a few years of marriage. Okay so they remarried in 2001, but in the meantime he had a relationship with his nurse whom he abandoned when she fell pregnant with his son. Things weren’t exactly all sunshine and roses in the Nash household it seems, and while I can understand why these aspects weren’t included in the film, at the same time I don’t think it’s fair to distort the relationships of living people in this way, purely for entertainment purposes. It might not seem like a big thing really, but I do believe that if you’re making a film of someone who’s still alive and able to watch your representation of them on screen, you owe it to them as a mark of respect to make that representation as accurate as possible, or at least not to alter it in a way which could be distressing, purely for the sake of creating a better film. I don’t think I’m explaining it very well, but it seems unfair to put a Hollywood gloss over something which would have had a huge impact on the real Nash family. But then I suppose that’s Hollywood for you.

The story portrayed in the film was a very good one, but I do wonder why they made it about John Nash when a lot of the film was either fiction or distortion. Maybe the powers that be decided it’d sell better if it had the Nash name attached to it, but I think the film would have worked just as well if it was based around an invented genius, or maybe if the invented genius was ‘loosely based’ on John Nash but went by a different name. I don’t know, I’m probably over-thinking things and seeing problems where there isn’t a problem. All I will say is that A Beautiful Mind is a good film with a compelling story that really drew me in, but just don’t take it too literally.

See also My Culture Mission or read previous Film Review, featuring True Grit.