A dramatic historical adaptation directed by Ron Howard, A Beautiful Mind from 2001 is a true masterpiece. Starring Russell Crowe as a paranoid schizophrenic mathematical genius, this engrossing story is set after the conclusion of World War II and progressing into the 1990s. The audience is shown the life of John Nash through his eyes and those surrounding him.
The incredibly unique method of storytelling in this film was very effective. Initially, we see the world and characters in the film from Nash’s perspective. This analytical prodigy sees invisible patterns in everyday life. From a cinematography perspective, these scenes are brilliantly shot. The camera focuses on Nash as he dissects diagrams and algorithms of images, numbers, people, and things. We see the intense focus in his facial expressions, and then the camera shifts, highlighting the patterns seen by Nash. The audience literally has the same visual perspective as the genius. Everything else occurring around Nash fades away, concentrating all attention on his perception. Yet, everything is not how it appears in Nash’s world.
At first, the audience is led to believe that Nash’s skills are being used to assist the Pentagon as a codebreaker, cracking secret Russian communication methods during the Cold War. However, we are in for a surprise about halfway through the film. Although it is common knowledge that this man is socially challenged and quirky, the true nature of his psyche is astonishing. Most of the story conveyed so far has been a delusion inside Nash’s mind (Character vs. Self Conflict). This includes his “best friend” from Princeton University, Charles Herman (Paul Bettany), and his boss from the Department of Defense, Parcher (Ed Harris). One specific scene that hits the audience hard is when Nash is taken away by a psychiatrist team led by Dr. Rosen (Christopher Plummer). Nash is strongly resistant to this psych team, and they have no choice but to tackle him and inject him with a tranquilizing agent. The camera angle from above, showing Nash struggling on the ground, gives the audience a feeling of superiority. But, from the other side, Nash feels helplessly inferior. He is going to a mental hospital, a place practically not even on the totem pole of society (Character vs. Society Conflict).
Although many of the aspects of Nash’s life have been fixtures of his imagination, one pillar that remains standing is his relationship with his wife, Alicia Nash (Jennifer Connelly). A former student of his, they had fallen in love and had a son, living “normal” lives. Alicia was just as shocked as the audience with the revelation about John’s horrific mental illness. Yet, she sticks with her husband through the darkest times. This journey for Alicia is especially difficult considering the fact that the enemy in this case is not tangible, but a figment of her husband’s mental makeup (Character vs. The Unknown Conflict). Remarkably, over time, John is able to improve his function in society, so much so that he wins a Nobel Prize in 1994. This “Tragic Hero” and “Romantic Hero” combination has been on a journey truly worthy of being adapted into a film.
In examining the color scheme of the film, there was always a brighter contrast of colors in scenes with Alicia. This positively changed the whole outlook and mood in these instances. In John’s distressful times, the lighting darkens, with a grayish setting. Scenes in the mental hospital showed completely blank, barren walls and floors, creating a sense of sterility and complete lack of emotion. The cinematography and incorporation of color theory in this film were expertly crafted.
In looking at the film score, the recurring theme combining strings, winds, and a choral arrangement could be used in various scenes conveying a wide range of emotions. The same basic theme with a few adjustments was used to produce feelings of sadness, strangeness, wonder, and love. It’s amazing that this piece of music could be used with such emotional versatility. Unsurprisingly, James Horner earned a Golden Globe nominee for Best Original Score in 2002 for his contributions to this film.
Personally, I was blown away by the filmmaking deftness exemplified by Ron Howard and company in A Beautiful Mind.The mind-blowing reality of schizophrenia was conveyed remarkably realistically, along with John Nash’s phenomenal journey dealing with this illness. Russell Crowe’s performance might have been the best I’ve ever seen from someone portraying a character like Nash. Based on my opinion, I would give this film a solid “A” grade.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Not for children with the disturbing, yet authentic themes of severe mental illness, as well as some sexuality and language. Older audiences should deeply appreciate its social relevance.