This film was both wondrous and painful for me to watch. I was in tears for pretty much the second half of it. Some of it hit too close to history and to home for me. The film tells the story of John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economic, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and delusional episodes. I didn’t know anything about Nash, and the story of his life was fascinating to me. I have read some criticisms centered on a few key pieces left out, which were also interesting. What caught me so off guard about this film was the reveal. It took me quite a ways into the film to fully grasp that we had started the beginning of the movie seeing things as Nash himself would see them. The line between reality and the imagined was quite blurry, and Russell Crowe did an impeccable job portraying this character.
It is difficult for me to watch any film where someone struggles so much to fit in. Where someone is so different that even day to day life is a painful slog. In this story, Nash’s wife Alicia Larde (played by the brilliant Jennifer Connelly of Labyrinth fame) also shares in the struggle. Despite an enormous love between them, his afflictions are in a number of scenes more than she can grapple with – more than anyone could, truly. I found myself curious about some of the specifics of how Nash handled his illness. It is a striking notion to me that the very medication that would help him function in the world would also strip him of some of his most powerful gifts, and truly brought to mind a phrase I’ve held dear when thinking about these kinds of issues – the notion that Nash is “touched by fire.” This is a concept I encountered when I first learned of the great group The Icarus Project, a DIY, grassroots effort to reconceptualize mental illness. I would recommend checking it out here: http://theicarusproject.net/.
The main strength of A Beautiful Mind is it’s ability to portray mental illness from the perspective of the afflicted, a difficult task because it is based around beliefs and states of mind that by their very nature do not correspond to rational thought or logic. I understand that the exact nature of the hallucinations in the film don’t correspond to the symptoms experienced by the real Nash. I can grant this license in that the film achieves its goal, which is not being a psychiatric case study. Rather, it takes the viewer inside the mind of a delusional individual. While the cloak and dagger intrigue of rogue Soviet spies may clue the audience in that we are not watching an objective reality (especially for those of us who went in familiar with the movie’s premise), Nash’s relationship with Charles sets us up for the big revelation at the film’s midpoint. What has seemed entirely real to Nash – and to us – is devastatingly revealed to be illusory. We have to be brought along with Nash’s delusions one way or another. Continue reading