Not wanting to stray too far from the exercise-movie relationship, after the gym, I slipped a DVD into the player and watched another Best Picture nominee from 2001...
A Beautiful Mind
(based on the book by Sylvia Nasar)
Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Paul Bettany, Christopher Plummer, Adam Goldberg, Josh Lucas
4 wins, for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay
Based on the life of a Nobel Laureate, the beautiful mind of the title belongs to John Nash, a brilliant mathematician with a slight problem when it comes to social interaction. He thinks in proofs and formulae about everything, from the behaviour of pigeons to the best method to get laid. His phenomenal aptitude at code breaking piques the interest of the Department of Defense, who put him to work on a top secret assignment uncovering patterns in newspapers and magazines. Alicia, his wife and former student, notices Nash's increasing paranoia and he is soon diagnosed as a schizophrenic. Armed with this new perspective, our nerdy hero struggles with determining what in his life is real and what is just a hallucinatory symptom of his condition.
Here's another one of those films that is inevitably less powerful the second time around. I remember being completely taken in by Nash's hallucinations the first time I saw A Beautiful Mind, even though I knew the main character was schizophrenic. I accepted his experiences as they became more and more implausible, so it took some time before I realised what was going on. But unlike a thriller or mystery that may leave clever clues to the twist that can be enjoyed on repeat viewings (like in The Sixth Sense, for example), this film is a drama, so the focus is on character, before and after the twist is revealed. Thus, since the delusions that Nash experiences are extremely real to him, director Ron Howard makes them a reality for us. This means that, although you get a different perspective on the events if you've seen the film before, there's not really anything new to glean from them.
That said, some of the hallucinatory scenes are still particularly gripping, whether you're aware of their reality or not. Plus, the smart and subtle use of visual effects as Nash's mind spots patterns and calculates formulae works very nicely. But this film is a character study if ever there was one. As Nash's psychiatrist ponders during his treatment, "Imagine if you suddenly learned that the people, the places, the moments most important to you were not gone, not dead, but worse, had never been. What kind of hell would that be?" Don't worry, though. The dialogue doesn't hit us over the head like that very often, but even though that line is a little manipulative and sentimental, it is certainly food for thought.
Being a character study, the actor playing that character has his work cut out for him. Here, Russell Crowe isn't bad as Nash, but perhaps I'm only convinced by his performances when he plays the rough around the edges roles. Think Romper Stomper and Proof of Life and especially Gladiator. Tough guys who say things as they are. Just like Crowe himself. However, dress him up as a middle-aged tobacco industry whistle-blower or, in this case, a meek and socially awkward academic, and for some reason, I just don't buy it. Perhaps it was the false teeth. Or maybe the false accent. Still, the old-age make-up at the end of the film is incredibly impressive, on both Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, who gives a top notch Oscar-winning performance as Nash's long-suffering but supportive wife.
It has certainly been tough for me to comment on A Beautiful Mind because I know I was honestly taken aback on my initial viewing. I still enjoyed it this time but I guess you can never get back that sense of wonder you feel when you are genuinely surprised. And it happens to the best of them. Even Psycho, with all its brilliance, is never quite the same after that first time...