Creative team finds deeper meaning in 'Mind'
Through the film, they hope to foster better understanding of mental illness.
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. — Mathematician John Nash was a legend in his field by age 30, immediately following the Second World War. In 1994, he won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to world economic theory. In between these dramatic tentpoles, his life was a daily struggle with schizophrenia.
"A Beautiful Mind," inspired by his professional and personal journey, investigates the mental and emotional resources he drew on in that fight and the price of his ultimate triumph to him and his wife, Alicia, both of whom are alive today. Now in theaters nationwide, "A Beautiful Mind" is based on a book with the same title.
For the team that produced the film, the story has strong personal meanings.
"I have a son with learning disabilities," says producer Brian Grazer, who adds that he struggled with dyslexia as a child. Schools during his childhood had few resources to deal with his problem, and other children were merciless, he says.
"It was just, 'Hey, you're stupid.' Now, there's much more understanding," he says. Mr. Grazer recalls what he considers hard-won success in the face of his own limitations. "I was on unemployment, earning $78 a week, and somebody said, 'write.' "
The producer of the hits "The Grinch" and "Apollo 13" says it took a lot of will to get started. He wrote the script for "Splash," which Grazer says with a laugh was a "much better movie than script."
One of the themes running through "A Beautiful Mind" is the sheer strength of Nash's will to overcome his disabilities. "This film is a bigger illustration of what I went through," Grazer says.
However, the film is not a Nash biopic, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman says. Rather, the story is inspired by his struggles. The writer of such films as "Batman Forever" and "Practical Magic" has his own deep well of stories to tap.
Mr. Goldsman's father is a therapist and his mother a psychiatrist. When he was young, his parents ran a facility for schizophrenic children in their home. "I grew up around schizophrenic kids," he says. "I had no idea you weren't supposed to dream when you were awake. Everybody did that; it was completely normal for me."
While Goldsman is adamant that the film is not what he calls a "mental-health picture," he feels a personal sense of responsibility. "The whole idea is that maybe next time you see someone screaming, maybe you'll see them differently."
The film has generated controversy over licenses taken with Nash's actual story, such as the invention of delusions and characters in the mathematician's life.
Goldsman also points out that much of Nash's work for the government was classified and therefore difficult to portray accurately. He calls what he has created "fiction." But Goldsman is unapologetic.
"This film is a metaphor, it is not a clinical description of schizophrenia," nor of Nash's life, he says.
For actor Russell Crowe, who portrays Nash, the story was as much about the relationship between Alicia and John Nash as it was an investigation of his mental condition and intellectual capacity.
"What attracted me to this screenplay was not just his triumphing over terrific odds, but the fact that he had a fantastic romance," the Australian actor says. "If Alicia Nash hadn't provided the platform for him, he probably wouldn't have been able to organize his mind."
Coming off his Oscar-winning performance as the supremely physical hero in "Gladiator," Crowe says he worked particularly hard to identify the physical characteristics of a man whose life work was entirely in his mind. Crowe met with the real-life Nash as part of the process.
"I noticed that he had long tapered fingers," he says, adding with a laugh. "I started growing my nails, because I thought that it might give a certain grace lacking in my sausage-like fingers."
The film raises, but doesn't necessarily answer, questions about the relationship between intellect and madness. Crowe says that to connect madness with genius is a romantic notion, and suggests the relationship between the two isn't necessarily direct. "Intelligence doesn't protect you from madness, but lacking intellect doesn't protect you either," he says.
None of the creative team regards the film as a definitive statement about schizophrenia, but all hope it will make a contribution to understanding the disorder. The point of the movie, says director Ron Howard, is to "capture the spirit of the journey."