2001 • A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind, 2001In college they had “Dollar Movie Night” at the West Twin Theater in Madison, South Dakota for us broke college students who otherwise couldn’t afford the $6.50 price of admission. In early 2002, Chris Ahrendt and I took in A Beautiful Mind on a random Tuesday night. I instantly declared it to be one of my favorite movies of all-time and bought the DVD. Never before had a movie been going along so smoothly and then taken such a sharp twist that totally changed everything. My mind was blown. Blown, I tell ya!

Naturally, a movie like that can never be anywhere close to as good once you know the twists that lie ahead. But Lauren had never seen A Beautiful Mind and I hadn’t seen it in a couple years, so Sunday evening we decided to continue on with our project.

The movie is loosely based on the true story of mathematical genius Dr. John Nash (Russell Crowe), who arrives at Princeton in 1947 as a prized scholar, hoping to make it big by coming up with a truly original math concept. While at the bar with his pals, he makes an alarming discovery that leads him to disproving and reinventing a 150-year-old theory. Nash falls in love with one of his students, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), and gets married. Meanwhile, he is taken in by US government officials to work on a top-secret mission breaking foreign code to locate the placement of bombs. Alicia gradually notices some bizarre behavior from her husband and he is taken to a psychiatric hospital where [spoiler alert—I don’t want to ruin this for anyone!] it is proven that he is schizophrenic and three of the people he believes to be real are in fact in his head, and he is not in fact working for the US government. Nash gets better but soon goes off his meds and goes right back to his old ways, because when taking his meds he is no longer the math genius he once was. Can Nash learn to live with his schizophrenia and stay off his medication so he can become the scholar he hopes to be?

First of all, amazing movie. Easily one of my top ten favorites from the last decade. Sure, the movie doesn’t stick to the facts of the real life Nash story, but it probably becomes a little more entertaining this way. It’s a really interesting story of overcoming obstacles and perhaps a bit of romance. There are scenes that are tough to watch—I always get a little uneasy when Alicia is about to enter his little shed in the woods and discover he’s off his meds and still nuts, then races back to the house only to find he has put the baby in the bath tub and nearly drowned it.

Russell Crowe has now been the lead actor in two straight Best Pictures. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I think the only other actor who can say that is Clark Gable with It Happened One Night and Mutiny on the Bounty in 1934-35. Crowe went from the second-century fighting champion in Gladiator to a mentally ill mathematician in successive years—quite the range! Jennifer Connelly deservedly won Best Supporting Actress for her role as Alicia Nash. Apparently she was never considered for the role, and only received the part when accompanying Jared Leto to his audition for the role of Nash and reading opposite him.

One thing that stands out to me about A Beautiful Mind, and correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall anyone dying in the movie, aside from some of the men that Nash thought were real during the car chase scene. I think you’d have to go all the way back to perhaps Chariots of Fire in 1981 since we’ve had a death-free Best Picture. That may also be inaccurate; just going off the top of my head.

As always, it’s quality entertainment whenever Ron Howard and Brian Grazer get together. Howard won Best Director, and of course Grazer gets the win for Best Picture. Akiva Goldstein also won for Adapted Screenplay.

I ranked A Beautiful Mind #20 on the list, right between Grand Hotel and Gone With the Wind. Next up, 2002 musical Chicago.

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