In John Madden’s hands, David Auburn’s tautly written play makes the transition to the big screen with style, sensitivity and surety (Rebecca Miller co-wrote the screenplay). The unfolding mystery of “Who wrote it?” (a highly complex mathematical proof that will have enormous impact on the scientific community) grabs our attention from the opening frames and doesn’t let go until the credits start rolling.
Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow, reprising the stage role with insight that carries the film) is the primary caregiver to her schizophrenic father, Robert (Anthony Hopkins, whose descent into and around madness lacks the genuinely pathetic conviction that more screen time might have remedied). His commanding genius when in his early twenties has been overshadowed, then obliterated by mental illness. His tireless daughter, a chip off the intellectual block, begins to wonder if she’ll inherit the disease. Rather than put her mind at rest, Robert’s death only increases the turmoil.
A former student, Hal (portrayed with passion and grit as uncertainty swirls around him by Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers some long-lost theorem and solution in his former professor’s notebooks. His scientific interest is piqued even as his romantic inclinations soon fall into bed with Catherine.
Using a series of sharply cut flashbacks (brilliantly edited by Mick Audsley), the film personifies the perpetually confused state of one and quite possibly more of its protagonists. Bouncing from scene to scene forces viewers to prove for themselves what is correct: Robert’s world becomes our own.
Eschewing a journal for a sibling-controlled to do list, sister Claire (Hope Davis, deliciously self-centred with every utterance) plunges into the unkempt campus house to organize the funeral and liquidate the assets. Tellingly, she sells the valuable homestead back to the university without feeling the need to consult her kin. But the master manipulator is no match for Catherine who storms up to the pulpit and delivers a scathing eulogy that will bring joy to the hearts of anyone who has attended a memorial and wondered why they’d never met the version of the dearly departed being so lovingly eulogized. Now who’s crazy?
All of this was beautifully captured by Alwin Küchler’s knowing camera. The design team (led by Alice Normington) did a truly spectacular job—particularly the father/daughter home that effectively mirrored the dominance of earth-shattering discovery over “everything in its place” daily living.
On so many levels, Proof stimulates as much thought in ourselves as in the pages-long solution to a, seemingly, insurmountable problem. JWR