Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A BEAUTIFUL MIND: Blu-ray (Dreamworks SKG 2001) Universal Home Video

Eschewing the less flattering passages in Sylvia Nasar’s book (including John Forbes Nash’s frequent run-ins with the law, his fathering an illegitimate child, and his alleged solicitation of homosexual sex in a men’s public bathroom), Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind (2001) treads safe and familiar territory in his moderately fictional account of the brilliant mathematician’s life. Yet, there is something disingenuous about Akiva Goldman’s screenplay that sets up the initial premise of John Nash – genius – while still a student at Princeton, then spends the bulk of the film's running time debunking that genius by graphically illustrating John’s quiet descend into schizophrenia.

Nash’s arrival at Princeton is initially met with much anticipation. He’s already won the prestigious Carnegie Prize for mathematics and is considered a great mind in the making. That’s enough to impress his roommate, Charlie (Paul Bettany) as well as to create a quiet rivalry among Nash’s more immediate peers. But Nash is antisocial; his lack of success in squiring the ladies leading him to develop the concept of ‘governing dynamics.’ He assumes a professorship at MIT where he meets Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) – one of his calculus students.

Now, here’s where the narrative gets tricky. Nash is reunited with Charlie who introduces him to his niece, Marcee (Vivien Cardone). Nash is also introduced to a mysterious agent in the U.S. Dept. of Defense – William Parcher (Ed Harris)…or is he? Nash is asked by Parcher to decipher an encrypted telecommunications message, which Nash does with considerable ease. However, soon Parcher is asking Nash to look for more encryptions in everything from newspaper articles to magazine ads. Nash’s quest for these ‘hidden messages’ eventually becomes his all-consuming obsession. He is hunted by Soviets spies, sedated and then sent to a psychiatric facility.

The wrinkle that is later exposed in the narrative structure is that none of the aforementioned actually happened. All are a product of Nash’s increasing schizophrenia and paranoid delusions. After enduring an excruciating series of shock therapy sessions, Nash is released into Alicia’s custody. But the antipsychotic drugs he is forced to take have affected his innate ability to perform complex mathematics.

The latter half of the story is dark and foreboding with Nash increasingly contemplating the death of his young son and wife at the behest of Parcher’s urging. Eventually, Nash fights back his demons and is restored to a portion of his former self, doing research at Princeton. The film ends with Nash being honored with the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics.

Well received by most critics, there are too many major inconsistencies between fact and fiction in this film to warrant A Beautiful Mind as a bio-pic on par with movies like Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. Rather, A Beautiful Mind is more along the lines of an enlightened, if largely experimental, delving into the realm of mental illness and those suffering from it. Yet, even here, the film tends to hypothesize and speculate rather than relate cold hard facts. For example, Nash’s hallucinations were auditory – not visual. The film presents them as tangibly real – Nash actually seeing what he's believing. In the end, the film succeeds only if one sets aside what is known about schizophrenia or John Nash and rather, simply accepts the story as a work of pure fiction.

Universal’s Blu-ray exhibits exemplary image quality. Visually, this is a very dark film. Yet, fine details are evident even during the blackest scenes. Colors are stylized as in the theatrical presentation. The palette starts off deeply saturated with golds and greens and as Nash’s psychosis get the better of him, becomes less so. This is as originally intended. Contrast levels are superbly rendered. The audio is 5.1 DTS and quite aggressive in its accoustics. Extras include a making of featurette, audio commentary and theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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