Video of the Week: 'A Beautiful Mind'

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent  |  June 24, 2002 at 10:24 AM
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LOS ANGELES, June 24 (UPI) -- The 2001 Best Picture winner, "A Beautiful Mind," is to go on sale Tuesday for a list price of $22.98 for the VHS tape and $29.98 for the DVD. The latter comes with a second disk stuffed with featurettes.

"A Beautiful Mind" also won Oscars for Best Director, Ron Howard, Adapted Screenplay, Akiva Goldman, and Supporting Actress, Jennifer Connelly, the once voluptuous teen starlet who at the Oscar ceremony looked sadly anorexic.

"A Beautiful Mind" supposedly is based on Sylvia Nasar's excellent biography of mathematician John F. Nash, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia from 1959 until only a few years before he received the Nobel Prize in 1994.

It's a well-acted and heart-warming movie. Yet, the screenplay's numerous fictional concoctions inspired much hostile comment. Universal Pictures executives were outraged by the criticism. Amusingly, they assumed the articles recounting the many discrepancies between the book and the movie must have been the result of leaks to journalists by rival studios. How else, the moguls reasoned, could anyone possibly find out what was in the bestselling nonfiction paperback in America?

Ultimately, "A Beautiful Mind" reveals less about the delusions of its purported subject than it does about the delusions of the modern hack screenwriter.

Goldman, writer of "Batman & Robin" and other widely despised movies, teams with the consistently competent director Howard -- "Apollo 13" -- to tell audiences what they want to hear about there being only a thin line between genius and madness. You shouldn't feel bad about not being a genius, the movie implies, at least, loony bin orderlies don't have to strap you down for your own protection.

As one of Tolstoy's characters noted, "No one is satisfied with his wealth, but everyone is satisfied with his intelligence."

In reality, although many great minds are eccentric and some are manic-depressive, very few are schizophrenic. Nasar calls Nash the "tragic exception" to this rule. Nash was the rare prodigy who had already proven his genius before he began hearing from space aliens at the age of 30.

A decade earlier in 1948, Nash had arrived at Princeton to get his doctorate. Princeton then was home to legendary thinkers such as Robert Oppenheimer and John von Neumann, heroes who had helped win World War II and were deeply involved in the Cold War. The movie, though, only alludes to this glamorous community. Unaccountably, it doesn't even show us the time Nash barged in on Albert Einstein to lecture him on how to fix his Theory of Relativity.

Goldman's script misleadingly portrays the young Nash as being a loner to the point of autism and delusion. Computer scientist John McCarthy, the co-founder of artificial intelligence, knew Nash at both Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

McCarthy said during an interview: "Nash was arrogant and perhaps selfish, but he functioned in society. He came to the afternoon tea almost every day. He and I played practical jokes on each other."

At age 21, Nash wrote up his Nobel idea about game theory. He formally showed how, even without a government to set rules, a small number of business rivals could reach a stable solution that would benefit each other. This didn't refute the free-market economics of Adam Smith, as the movie claims, but extended them.

Cold War military planners instantly appreciated Nash's contribution. Although often derided as Dr. Strangeloves, the RAND Corp.'s nuclear strategists saw in the "Nash equilibrium" hope there could be a stable middle ground between nuclear war and surrendering to Stalin.

After a decade of brilliance, Nash suddenly broke down in 1959.

Goldman ignores most of these facts to force feed us the anti-anti-communist propaganda so popular among modern screenwriters obsessed with Hollywood's blacklisting of their Stalinist predecessors.

In Goldman's hallucination, it is McCarthy-era paranoia that drives Nash mad. There's no mention of the extraterrestrial and religious delusions that primarily troubled the real Nash. Instead, Goldman's Nash goes bonkers worrying about Soviet spies. Since Nash was quite sane until 1959, long after Joe McCarthy's demise, Goldman moves Nash's breakdown up to the senator's heyday in 1953.

The other problem with "A Beautiful Mind" is that casting Russell Crowe, recently of "Gladiator," as a 20-year-old whiz kid is rather like having John Goodman star in the life story of jockey Willie Shoemaker.

First, the 37-year-old Crowe probably hasn't looked like he was 20 since he was 16. Second, the high school dropout movie star has a rather Neanderthalish brow ridge that adds to his aura of brutish masculinity. This helps make Crowe a genius at portraying the nobility of stupidity, as in "Gladiator" and "L.A. Confidential," where he played strong, simple heroes ensnared by devious conspirators.

Crowe is not, however, a genius at portraying geniuses. In "A Beautiful Mind," Crowe has one superbly tragic moment as he realizes his anti-psychosis medicine has left him too dim-witted to do mathematics. Otherwise, despite all his strong efforts, this is not the role Crowe was born to play.

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