A Beautiful Mind (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Minor spoilers ahead.  

This is the biopic of a Nobel Prize laureate, the mathematician John Nash, concentrating on his battles with mental illness. Given its status as a treasured and prestigious Best Picture winner, you might be surprised to know that reviewers were sharply divided on this film. Most people praised Russell Crowe's performance, but the detractors found the film to be full of intellectual hokum and found Opie's direction pedestrian. The British critics gave the film, on average, only about 5.3/10, and the British voters at the Guardian's website say only 6.4/10

I don't know whether time will declare this film to be an enduring masterpiece, but it is excellent, and I don't agree with either of the two common criticisms leveled above.

I don't think there was a lot of intellectual hokum - just the amount necessary to spend two hours talking about advanced mathematical theories so that normal people could understand the discussions in the context of an entertaining movie. Compared to the other recent popular movies about intellectual achievements,  Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester, which were completely bogus, A Beautiful Mind has enough grounding in reality so that the levels of achievement attained by the laureates, as well as their discussions, are plausible, within the necessary constraints of efficient and entertaining storytelling. Unlike Good Will Hunting, which is a masturbatory fantasy, A Beautiful Mind is as real as it could be and still be entertaining.

As for Opie's direction, that was no charity Oscar he received. I thought that he contributed far more than his share to the film. As good as the story is, as talented as Russell Crowe is, there are some concepts here that can't be explained in words or with acting, and other concepts that would require thousands of words, all boring. The trick to making this a good movie was to provide the visual representations of Nash's thought process. I thought that was handled well in three ways:



1. It was very effective to hide from the audience any initial clarification of what was delusional and what wasn't. That gave the story additional elements that made it play out more like a thriller or a mystery, rendering the film far more cinematic than other options. (SPOILERS: In fact, when I went back to view the film again, I saw that a very astute viewer could have detected Nash's delusions, but I wasn't looking for them at the time. One of the delusionary people repeated back a Nash quote that he was out of hearing range to hear in the first place. Another was a child that never aged. A third was Nash's roommate - in a dorm with one bed.) I like the way Opie handled this.

2. The visual tricks allowed us a bit of insight into the nature of Nash's intuitive leaps, how he formulated them, and why. Explaining intuitive genius to others is next to impossible, but the film did quite well.

DVD info from Amazon.

• Disc 1
• Feature film, widescreen anamorphic, 1.85
• Deleted scenes - with optional director's commentary
• Commentary by screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, second commentary by director Ron Howard

• Disc 2
• A Beautiful Partnership: Ron Howard and Brian Grazer
• Development of the Screenplay
• Meeting John Nash - The Nash Theory of Equilibrium
• "Accepting the Nobel Prize in Economics"
• "The Process of Age Progression"
• Storyboards to final feature comparison
• Creation of special effects
• Scoring the film
• Inside A Beautiful Mind
• Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay
• A Beautiful Mind soundtrack

The DVD includes just about everything you could possibly want to know about this movie

3. The visual tricks showed us clearly that the same mental processes which made Nash a genius also made him mad.  People always say that there is a fine line between insanity and genius, but it is normally just one of those clichιs that people mouth unthinkingly. This film actually demonstrated that idea, as well as the corollary view that it is difficult to convince a genius that he is wrong when he's the only one who sees things a certain way. Nash could always see things nobody else could see. That is what made him capable of mathematical originality. It is very difficult for a genius to realize he is losing a grip on reality because he is used to seeing what others cannot, and he is used to being right when he perceives the universe in a different way from the masses. Therefore, a genius will tend to view his own delusions as just more examples of things nobody else is brilliant enough to figure out.

Nash himself wrote that his cure was not entirely joyful, because being cured of what made him different from others also cured him of his genius. Here is the autobiography that Nash wrote for the Nobel committee

I think it is possible to argue that Opie's achievements as director of this film paled in comparison to the complex contribution that Baz Luhrmann made to Moulin Rouge. Maybe so. But I don't think it is fair to say that Opie didn't do a helluva job. He did great.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars, nearly 4. Ebert 4/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4 (top 10, 2001), filmcritic.com 5/5

  • General UK consensus: two stars. Daily Mail 8/10, Daily Telegraph 1/10, Independent 6/10, The Guardian 4/10, The Times 2/10, Evening Standard 4/10, The Express 6/10, The Mirror 9/10, BBC 4/5

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 8.0/10 (159th of all time), Guardian voters 6.4/10
  • Domestic gross $170 million. Budget $60 million.
  • Nominated for eight Oscars, winning four including Best Director and Best Picture


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B. Not a genre pic or a story confined to lovers of math. A story about the human spirit, and the real nature of love which, unlike movie love, consists of guilt, attraction and sometimes just unglamorous responsibility. Well acted by Crowe. Well assembled by Opie.

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