Sanitised and simplified: A Beautiful Mind (Ron Howard, 2001)

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I expected this to be intolerably insipid, but found it fairly inoffensive. The ‘beautiful heart’ scene is gag-worthy and the old age makeup is dreadful, but otherwise, it’s a passably bland film. It’s fun to see Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany together before Master and Commander, and Jennifer Connelly and Ed Harris do good work. Harris can play just the kind of guy you don’t want lurking around in your mind. The car chase sequence has a nicely ironic dreamlike quality to it, and um… yeah. That’s about it.

Taking a glance at John Nash’s entry on Wikipedia, however, I’m disappointed by Howard’s entire approach to the film. It revolves around a twist, which seems like a forced method of keeping the audience engaged. It also grossly simplifies Nash’s life, particularly when it comes to issues of sexuality, race, and politics. In doing so, it avoids a goldmine of potential; for instance, Nash’s (El Salvadorean!) wife divorced him in 1963, and they didn‘t remarry for 38 years. How is that relationship not more interesting than what we’re shown here?

Not that A Beautiful Mind shouldn’t be dramatised; Apollo 13, another Howard film, did an excellent job of maintaining the facts of a historical event while presenting them in a filmic and entertaining way. But when the end product dodges the facts while being unable to appeal on its own merits, it’s unavoidably clear that it’s been made with an attempt to sanitise controversial areas as much as possible.

A Beautiful Mind not only fails to capture the complexity of Nash’s life, it doesn’t really try. I’d like to see a drier film about him, one that is less concerned with pleasing crowds and winning awards and simplifying, through over-visualising, his mental struggles. The car chase just isn’t that good.

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