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A Beautiful Mind (2001)
 Reviewed 2002-01-13: We all have demons. It's just that those who haunt John Nash, Nobel laureate and the subject of the semi-biographical film A Beautiful Mind could talk back to him. It's easy to talk back to this film, too. It's a manipulative, tear-jerking character study, with a contrived happy ending (Love Conquers All), which along the way takes no dramatic chances and goes out of its way not to offend anyone. But if you are distracted on these shortcomings, you will fail to focus on some brilliant insights into genius and madness, and how sometimes the two can reside, and even cohabit, inside the same person.

That person, like the child who avoids baby talk and refuses to speak until he can compose complete sentences, John Nash (once and future Oscar winner Russell Crowe) proposed brilliant ideas -- notably his Nobel-winning Game Theory -- that seemed to spring from his brain fully formed. Impatient with social graces, and convinced that his mind could conquer any problem with its grasp of numbers and perception of patterns, the West Virginia savant slipped into paranoid schizophrenia. Nash believed he was a secret government spy, tasked by the mysterious Parcher (Ed Harris) to detect subversive plots in patterns only he could see in common newspapers and magazines. Only when confronted with the truth of his delusion -- in which the audience is cleverly invited to share by the steady hand of director Ron Howard -- does Nash break down. And only with the love of a perceptive, good woman (Jennifer Connolly), the student who became his wife, did he come back from madness and claim his deserved fame.

The performances of Crowe and Harris are excellent, of course. But of equal caliber is the supporting performance of Connolly (who I last saw in Requiem for a Dream). In support of those performances is a deft script by Akiva Goldsman, based on the biography by Sylvia Nasar, that explores the truly scary notion of being unable to trust your own perceptions. The inability to distinguish fantasy from reality is, to me, the very definition of madness. I have taught communication at the college level and I stress to my students the importance of perception in any exchange. If the perception goes astray, or you and your interlocutor cannot agree on perceptions, at best the communication breaks down. At worst, reality itself seems altered. That A Beautiful Mind made that clear, wins from this teacher highest marks.

Agree? Disagree? Tell me!

Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.