We gave it an A
Sylvia Nasar’s award-winning A Beautiful Mind, the biography of mathematical whiz John Forbes Nash Jr. is riveting. The skeletal story — a genius is derailed by schizophrenia, driven into isolation and unproductivity, and ultimately resurrected with a Nobel prize in 1994 — is a sweet one. But Nash’s life is as rich and troubled as one would expect from a genius, and Nasar doesn’t shy away from her subject’s complexity — or his faults. Her biography paints Nash as an anti-Semite. A lousy father. A violent man. A jerk to women (particularly the mistress he impregnated and abandoned, and the wife from whom he was separated for nearly 40 years). Nasar’s point — that what was beautiful about John Nash was the mind rather than the man — is completely massaged out of the film starring Russell Crowe. Gone as well is the depth of fear, felt not only by Nash but by his peers, that treating his schizophrenia would dull his genius, diminishing his worth.
The claim that has drawn the most sputters from fans of the film, which is more a story of marriage than math or madness, is of Nash’s homosexual leanings. Apparently, that bit of history was excised out of fear that moviegoers might be quick to equate schizophrenia with homosexuality. In her biography, Nasar discusses the Freudian concept in the 1950s that linked the two, a theory that has long since been discredited. But does the on-screen omission really hint at Hollywood’s perception that unevolved moviegoers will be more put off by homosexuality than by schizophrenia?