Before we get into the actual film discussion this week, I’d like to give a little meta update on how the Pile of Shame is progressing. After all, it is a pile and with each individual chip I make, it gets smaller. We’ve watched and discussed some great movies so far. From the absolute classics to the weird and cultish to the more modern, it’s been quite the journey through the wonderful world of cinema. I found that the movies that I’ve been hounded to watch in the past are already done and in the archive already, and I’m dipping into more obscure stuff that I’ve just been curious about and not been haunted by. This is great because we’ll be discussing an even more wide variety of movies in the future. Just because I say that some of my priority movies have been taken care of, doesn’t mean that there’s still not an entire mountain of classic movies that are still available. We’re just getting started, folks. Alright, onto The Beautiful Mind. Expect some spoilers in there, as usual.
I’ll come clean, when I’m not sure which movie to watch next in this series, I go to the Wikipedia page of Oscar winners and pick something that I’ve been curious about. I landed on the winner of the 2001 Academy Awards which I have heard things about but never really delved into. That movie was, of course, A Beautiful Mind. It’s based on the true story of John Nash, the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician that famously suffered from schizophrenia. I figured this was going to be a poignant tale of mental illness damaging a person, which it was, but I didn’t expect the unrelenting impact that it made on me.
You see, I’m a strong advocate for mental health awareness since I suffer from a mental illness myself. I have clinical depression which also inhibits my life a great deal and I understand how capable the human mind is of absolute sabotage and damage. To see schizophrenia framed in such an intelligent way was masterful of this movie with the character John Nash, played by Russell Crowe, being plagued by the distinction between reality and delusion. What it did right was to make us as the audience believe that the man is sane. His delusions make sense, there’s nothing really out of the ordinary and everything is entirely plausible. However, when our delusions are shattered along with Nash, you can really feel that impact of the implications involved in this sickness.
Besides being a benchmark for mental health representation, A Beautiful Mind is also a sculpted cinematic journey through the troubled and fascinating life of John Nash. He’s a bit of a prick, in all honesty, but that later gets justified by the man himself as just his propensity for being direct and unapologetic. The scenes with his girlfriend turned wife also bore heavy emotional weight as they go from this very unconventional pair to a man and woman stuck in a terrible and inescapable position. The transitions and context that this film provides are impeccable and not something I often see done right in movies as a whole.
The other aspect that really turned me into a fan was the fact that the movie wasn’t afraid to be intelligent. Here are a bunch of articulate math geniuses that have studied at the upper echelons of human education and they’re not afraid to show it and even have fun with it. It was genuine in a world where scientists in movies often explain wormholes with a paper being stuck through a pencil like we haven’t seen that a million times already. However, the mathematics was never the focus of the film, it was the characters that received that spotlight. The math was represented, but it was merely a backdrop for the pure human drama that unfolded.
Characters were not afraid to utter their favourite quotes, speak their mind articulately and really give weight to their characters. Russel Crowe did an amazing job portraying John Nash, in particular the man’s mental and physical degradation. He captured the various eccentricities of the man in a way where it was extremely believable which lent some real power to the overall narrative. Alicia Nash, portrayed by Jennifer Connelly, was very much the same, building this magnetic chemistry between her and her troubled husband. She embodies a person that has to deal with such an impossible situation and really leans into the tragic part of being a bystander of mental illness. She married a man that turned out to suffer from severe delusions, but since he didn’t even know he was suffering from it, she got caught in the net of misery unknowingly. How does one respond to that? You can’t just abandon a person in their darkest hour, but you are also human with a very real threshold for dealing with all of the awfulness that can transpire.
The conclusion was a poignant reminder that life isn’t over even if your mind is trying to destroy you. That one can persevere, that there is hope even in the most awful recesses of existence. A light that may be dim, but is always there. A Beautiful Mind is a movie of many questions and many answers, bordering on becoming a public service announcement for mental illness. Beautifully shot, beautifully acted and beautifully executed. It’s a movie that, from start to finish, is a masterwork of the medium. It’s no wonder that it won an Oscar for Best Picture. I would certainly give it to it.
As mentioned, the Pile of Shame is just getting started. Next week I’m going to be doing one of the all-time greats. I hesitated because it’s a trilogy and I don’t like just doing a single movie from it, but the first movie was a landmark in cinema. I’ll be watching The Godfather. I’ll see about maybe doing the whole trilogy as I heard that part 2 is pretty much the best movie of all time.
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