In 1948, a young John Nash enrolled at Princeton University and was on a fast track to a great academic career. As a truly intelligent man, he devoted his time to a theorem that would explore new areas of mathematics. Along with his roommate, Charles, he stayed fairly solitary, only to engage in occasional drinks at a local bar. When he rose to the level of a professor at MIT, he encountered a young woman whose intelligence caught his attention and eventually led to a romance that changed his life. The pair soon married and started a life together. When John was discovered for his logical abilities and given a set of secret missions, he began to disconnect with the world around him and show signs of schizophrenia. After an intensive treatment, John was no longer the person Alicia had fallen in love with and he continued to disconnect for new reasons. While the medication caused a calming of the imaginary world, John’s challenge became whether to suppress the imaginary world or to embrace the life of excitement and purpose.
Starring: Russell Crowe (John Nash), Jennifer Connelly (Alicia Nash), Ed Harris (Parcher), Christopher Plummer (Dr. Rosen), Paul Beatty (Charles), Adam Goldberg (Sol), Josh Lucas (Hansen), Anthony Rapp (Bender)
There is one great certainty about this film: Russell Crowe has an ability to transform a story through a truly dynamic performance. Though he felt short of award recognition for this film, the range of his character was truly entertaining to watch. Starting as a more reserved intellectual, he shows how love can enhance a man’s best qualities but also how a mental illness can make a man’s behaviors unpredictable. Opposite of Crowe was the talented Jennifer Connelly in arguably her best performance to date. She served as the perfect supporting muse to Crowe’s character and had moments of desperation as she tried to make sense of his psychological condition. The two men that played into the fantasy world were Paul Bettany (Charles) and Ed Harris (Parcher). Each maintained an intensity that was draws in the viewer and serves as the perfect setup to the drama for Crowe’s battle with reality. Christopher Plummer’s role was certainly important to the flow of the story but his character served more of an even presentation of strong-willed, dangerous treatment over symptom management, which was a example of the approach of the time to mental illness.
Ron Howard directed a beautiful film that merges together a number of compelling elements. The two most significant themes of the film (while ignoring the development of the mathematical breakthrough) are the significance of love in a person’s life and the effects of mental illness on success and relationships. The love story aspect of the film is certainly one that could get a professor today in trouble but was endearing for the development of the story. With Alicia serving as a strong and determined female character, she both broke the norm of women in education at the time and completed the partnership with the shyer but intelligent and caring personality of John. Particularly in the scene with John held Alicia’s hand and drew the constellations in the air, their love was one that looked like it could stand the test of time and the numerous challenges that even the unknown schizophrenia was going to throw their way.
Including the strong element of mental illness both increased the compelling aspect of the story and brought an awareness of the effects and treatments used to manage issues as significant at schizophrenia. John’s affliction did not present itself as severely while in college, with the only hallucination being the one with an imaginary roommate. With little to no interactions that would have disproved Charles’s existence, John was able to function without any significant attention to his mental status. It was not until the characters of Parcher and Marcee (played by Vivien Cardone) began to spill over into his family life that Alicia was even aware that something was awry. Even in the twilight of his life, John continued to see the illusions of Parcher, Marcee and Charles, but his mind was also able to comprehend the differences between reality and illusion. The real John Nash struggled with these issues and received the same treatments represented in the film, including psychiatric hospital stays, antipsychotic medicines and shock therapies. While he was afflicted with this illness, he still was a significant contributor to mathematics, particularly in game theory, differential geometry and partial differential equations.
This critically acclaimed film is one of the best films of the past couple decades and certainly includes a compelling story based on the real life experiences of the infamous John Nash. Crowe deserves recognition for his strong performance as well as the rest of the cast for their portrayal of the effects of mental illness on life, love and professional success.
Dan’s Rating: 5.0/5