Nobel prize-winning boffin John Nash gets a Hollywood makeover in this dumbed-down, sexed-up biopic
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Director: Ron Howard
Entertainment grade: Bâ"
History grade: Câ"
John Forbes Nash Jr won the 1994 Nobel Memorial prize in economics, along with John C Harsanyi and Reinhard Selten, for their work on game theory. Nash has been public about his struggle with schizophrenia.Education
John Nash (Russell Crowe) arrives at Princeton soon after the end of the second world war. "Mathematicians won the war," says a self-righteous professor. "Mathematicians broke the Japanese codes and built the A-bomb. Mathematicians like you." The university is full of horrible, snotty young men belittling each other, and the socially awkward Nash is belittled the most. "The truth is that I don't like people much," he tells his roommate Charles (Paul Bettany). "And they don't much like me."Romance
For all his scribbling of equations on windows, Nash fails to come up with a brilliant idea until he finds himself in a bar with his coursemates, contemplating a glamorous blonde woman and her four less enchanting brunette friends. Since Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations (1776), some economists have argued that the interests of a group are best served by each of its members acting in individual self-interest. They should each, therefore, pursue the blonde. Nash is struck by a thunderbolt. If they each pursue the blonde, she may reject them all â" and all four brunettes will reject them too, offended by being fallback options. Therefore, the interests of the group are best served by each of its members taking into account one another's decisions as well as his own self-interest. They should each chat up a brunette. This is something of a simplification of Adam Smith's writings, of the history of economics and of the Nash equilibrium. Even those economists who aren't diagnosed with schizophrenia can be pretty odd fish, but it didn't take their discipline 174 years to figure out that it was possible to have sex with brunettes.Defence
"With a breakthrough of this magnitude, I'm confident you will get any placement you like," says Nash's professor. Yes, the world has shifted on its axis thanks to the revelation that brunettes may, under highly specific mathematical circumstances, be porkable. The Pentagon hears word of it, and Nash is summoned to decode Soviet communications. Who knows what the Reds might have to say about redheads? In real life, Nash's defence-related work was undertaken for the Rand Corporation, not directly for the Pentagon.Illness
A Beautiful Mind's representation of schizophrenia is affecting, but a lot of Nash's rough edges have been sanded off. As far as the film is concerned, his first and only relationship is a touching romance with an infinitely tolerant student, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). The screenplay is based on Sylvia Nasar's biography of Nash, but details that Oscar voters might have found difficult are simply left out: intense relationships with other men (which he and his wife both deny were sexual), an illegitimate son, and the darker side of his relationship with Alicia. According to Nasar, Nash "wished to show everyone that he was the master of this gorgeous young woman, and that she was his slave." He did so by throwing her to the ground during a mathematics department picnic and placing his foot on her neck. The film skips the couple's divorce in 1963.Reason
In 1994, Nash is awarded the Nobel Memorial prize. "I have made the most important discovery of my career," he tells the audience, his eyes resting on Alicia, who has been rendered unrecognisable by an extraordinary hairdo and inexplicably bleached eyebrows. "It's only in the mysterious equations of love that any logical reasons can be found." In real life, Nash did not give a speech or the traditional lecture on acceptance of the prize, and spoke only briefly during a seminar arranged as an alternative. The short autobiography he wrote on accepting the award is frank about his mental illness, but does not mention love.Verdict
Nash's mind and his life have been beautified according to Hollywood's standards. The result is an effective piece of cinema, but one that has little faith in its audience's intelligence.Russell CroweBiopicsAlex von Tunzelmann
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