thatcow

A Beautiful Movie

Why wouldn't I rush out and see any flick with more than a trivial amount of mathematics? It's not that the thought bores me - in fact, the book I'm currently reading, An Imaginary Tale gives a history over humanity's understanding of the square root of -1. No, the problem with math films are that they're never about the math - at best, it's a setting and someone like me will be distracted by what's on the blackboards in the background (there's some mildly interesting stuff in Good Will Hunting if you look for it).

Similarly, A Beautiful Mind is not about math at all, but our protagonist, John Nash (Russell Crowe), is a highly acclaimed mathematician. What the film is about is actually much more interesting - and by "interesting", I fall back to what the masses will relate to, the question of reality and our own sanity. Really, rotating counter-clockwise in the complex plane by multiplying by i means nothing to most people, but tell them their long-standing friends never existed anywhere but their mind, and that will tug at their hearts.

The film also touches on other broadminded ideas - Nash's antisocial tendencies reflect the ever popular outsider motif. In the depths of Nash's illness, we delve into the need for a purpose in life, of which his medication has robbed him. With all this rich, relatable material, it's no wonder the film was a popular and critical success.

This is also a tremendously well shot film. The colors are drawn from a moody palette designed to hint at the age of the story. The surprisingly numerous effects shots are blended in effectively, held together by well chosen angles and movement that cues us to whose story it is anyway.

I think, much more than in Gladiator, Crowe delivered an Oscar-worthy performance. In the strange, idiosyncratic way the Academy awards people for the wrong performance, Crowe got the nod for that other film the year before. That both films received best picture, that's another question entirely.

Before getting bogged down by an irrelevant discussion of the Oscars, I'll just conclude here by saying A Beautiful Mind succeeds by showing how a mathematically exact life doesn't quite measure up to the messy, inexact world of human interaction. Looking for meaning in the background ultimately distracts from the things that are right in front of you.

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