The story of real life Nobel Prize winner, John Nash could have been either very boring or distasteful. Only Ron Howard can make a world of numbers and complex calculations feel like magic. And only Russell Crowe can turn a socially inept human calculator into an endearing sweet character. Any other director/actor combination could have turned this film into a flop to forget about.
We meet John (Crowe) as he begins classes at Princeton University. Immediately, he’s an odd ball, not very good with social situations and not likely to make many friends. When it comes to women, his pickup line includes the term “fluid exchange.” Instead of going to classes, he charts the movement patterns of the pigeons, usually on windows. It’s only by a stroke of his unique genius that he’s even allowed to continue his studies at Princeton and receive his degree.
Once out of school, he’s a professor at MIT and called upon occasionally to break codes at the Pentagon. Sounds pretty prestigious, but he’s secretly yearning for more. He gets that by taking a classified job, finding hidden codes in magazines like Time and Life. But when he marries and starts a family, his top secret work could jeopardize his life, in more ways than he realizes.
Alright, for those of you who’ve seen this movie, you know the big spoiler I’m trying to tip-toe around. I hate to ruin a good twist for a first-timer, so… you can read between the lines.
John’s Princeton roommate, Charles (Paul Bettany), and his wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) are the two most important people in his life. They both have qualities John doesn’t have (and probably wishes he did), like being social, bold and spontaneous. Without these friends (and his classified work) John’s life wouldn’t have as much meaning and all we would see is a lonely man obsessively breaking codes.
One of the strangest and most fascinating things about this film is the way the viewer is visually shown how John’s mind works. A problem is shown to him, he murmurs and whispers to himself (maybe only in his head), the numbers light up and an answer just presents itself. I don’t know if that’s accurate to how John Nash really solves problems, but it’s a great visual way to show the viewer his process rather than have it explained to them. Wish I could do math like that.
A Beautiful Mind is a film for nearly everyone. There’s drama, romance, intelligence, action and psychological twists. With a PG-13 rating, it’s not too strong a brew for most either. Then again, Premiere included it in their “The 20 Most Overrated Movies Of All Time.” It’s good, but not Best Picture great.
I’ll end with a bit of truth I only wished some of my professors gave me: “This class will be a waste of your – and what is infinitely worse – my time.”