Seen again 20 years after A Beautiful Mind won the Best Picture Oscar, its impact on the never-going-away issue of how we treat those amongst with mental health issues helps us understand that those “afflicted” (many, many times through no fault of their own) can still contribute a great deal to society—frequently far surpassing those who purport to be entirely sane. Over the span of a lifetime, mental health challenges strike us all in varying forms, durations and severity.
Russell Crowe’s portrayal of math wizard John Nash is a marvel of speech (accent, timing and nuance), physicality (the ever-hesitant gait increasing as the years go by) and intensity. Those unfamiliar with this biopic’s subject, will quite likely believe that the U.S. is to be under attack from a breakaway faction—New Freedom—of Russia’s secret service—it’s up to Nash to break the enemy’s code to avoid catastrophic death and destruction. One of the early highlights is a hair-raising car chase where Nash and his minder (Ed Harris, readily at home playing the unforgiving recruiter/controller William Parcher) are shot at by Soviet agents. It’s a marvellous contrast to the late-inning bike ride that leads to the solution of a much thornier (and real) mathematical problem.
Director Ron Howard is at the top of his game piecing together the puzzle of what is real or not and artfully weaving in the, at times, emotionally tortured love story of Nash and wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly is superb as she stoically stands by her man through the ravages and treatments of schizophrenia).
Administering those treatments is in the very capable hands of Christopher Plummer playing the role of Dr. Rosen, alternately showing empathy, forcefulness while prescribing his tough love medicine—notably the insulin-based shock therapy.
After Nash’s unseen visitors nearly cause the drowning of his infant son, Alicia and child are sent away: the troubled genius will attempt to reason his way out of this fine madness alone—knowing that if readmitted to the psychiatric hospital, he will never be released.
From there, the film chronicles the inner struggles and outward successes, resulting in a triumph of mind over itself and concluding with the Nobel Prize in 1994.
As there are more troubled minds than ever during the COVID pandemic, we would all be wise not to judge those struggling with themselves too hastily—for once sanity is restored or assisted, who knows what else could be accomplished by the different amongst us? JWR