In gearing up for The Avengers, I not only provided solo movies for all the heroes involved, but I threw out a couple films for Avengers-to-be who tragically didn't make the cut. Such was the case with John Nash and A Beautiful Mind. When I realized his story called for period recreation, unconvincing aging make-up, mental disabilities and Jennifer Connolly, I decided to shoot for Oscar prestige while I was at it.
A Beautiful Mind is about super-brained John Nash. As a mathematician, Nash is extraordinary at ___________. But his real genius comes through his ability to make random things light up for no reason. He can also use prisms to carry the pattern of a bunch of sliced oranges and project it onto your tie. When we first meet Nash at Princeton University, he's already garnered a reputation for genius that intimidates his fellow students. Their collective intimidation wanes, however, when he shambles on campus, slightly retarded and clearly in his forties.
There are essentially three friends. As a sort of nerd-friend cinematic shorthand, the two lackey friends, Bender Bending Rodriguez and Nervy McHighstrung, are played by the nerd friends from Dazed and Confused. The "jock, alpha male" mathematician equivalent friend is played by Josh Lucas, an actor we were just stuck with before Ryan Gosling came along.
Though his mathematical Princeton pals are kind of jerks, Nash does make one great friend in his roommate, Charles. When they first meet, Charles talks up a British storm about hangovers and dehydration, and Nash doesn't follow any of it. Not because Charles' whirlwind monologuing goes too fast for him but because Charles is an albino and Nash has never seen one of those before. It occupies his Beautiful attention momentarily before he goes back to inventing Facebook on his window.
Nash is kind of a jerk. Because of his Beautiful mind, he has no time for people skills and tends to see everyone as beneath his own staggering intellect. Therefore, he never once attends classes and prefers instead to stay outside counting pigeons, an act so stupid people automatically assume it must be too genius for them to understand. Furthermore, he acts very curt and it rubs some the wrong way. For instance, he answers the phone by barking, "Nash, in," and ends conversations by belting, "Nash, out."
Princeton threatens to kick him out for not producing anything genius enough to warrant his continued annoying presence. This leads to the first of many scenes where Nash cries and shakes like a disabled infant. The part of Nash was supposed to be played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but he backed out for integrity-based reasons, and Russell Crowe took over. Playing a weird genius is a lot like playing a mentally handicapped character, except a bit easier because instead of flailing around all over the place, it's all based on remaining as still as possible while occasionally dishing out some Hunter S. Thompson hand gestures. It's the perfect role for bad actors.
Up against a wall, Nash has an epiphany when a pretty blonde and her four ugly friends enter a bar and his pals argue over who gets the blonde. Nash realizes that if they ignore the blonde and opt for the ugly girls instead, they'll all get laid. Then he runs home and somehow turns this into math. This solves many of the world's problems, and he gets to stay at Princeton.
We cut to some time later. Nash is now a professor working for the Men In Black. He spends most of his time doing nothing. But one day the MIB have him look at a bunch of numbers, and some of them light up which turn out to be attack coordinates for an alien invasion force.
This gets the attention of Tommy Lee Jones, who starts using Nash for stuff like this all the time. His task is to examine every periodical that comes out and make pertinent numbers light up. Every time he gets something, he's to put the info in a manila envelope, seal it with wax and send it to MIB headquarters by pigeon. Because he's so smart, he can't see that he's actually sealing them with tobacco spit and sending them via dead bat. Every time he successfully helps Tommy Lee Jones, he gets a memory wipe, so things get confusing for him very quickly.
Meanwhile, a girl starts liking him because ____________. The lady is played by Jennifer Connelly, Hollywood's go-to actress for when you need averred rather than displayed quality. Despite his poor hygiene, rampant paranoia, selfish punctuality issues and 100% unlikability, she marries him. Together they have a vague amount of children, some of whom he nearly drowns in the bathtub. Some of whom he successfully drowns in the bathtub.
The lady suspects that Tommy Lee Jones may not be real since everything about him is so secret, and John can never remember any details about him. With her help, the outside world begins to realize that Nash communicates with forces neither seen nor understood, and automatically assume he's crazy. So they put him into a hospital and have his Beautiful Mind zapped with electricity. This puts his work with the MIB at great risk, so Tommy Lee Jones contacts Special MIB Agent Nick Fury to pose as a doctor and proclaim him cured.
Once out, Fury and Jones explain to Nash that they're thinking of putting together an MIB sub-organization called S.H.E.I.L.D. and they're looking to him to fill their cosmic magician slot. Nash is honored, but to take the position he'll have to leave his family. He doesn't want to do that because ________.
But he comes home to find his wife already prepared to leave him, telling him that if he can't put away his childish delusions, he'll die alone and universally disliked. The more he tries to convince her his buddies are real, the more she zaps him with her Electric Shock Therapy Tazer and the more distant his MIB allies become.
In the end she wins. Instead of being a part of the future Avengers, Nash grows old as a pathetic professor. Nick Fury and Tommy Lee Jones show up occasionally to convince him, but Nash forces himself to ignore them, and eventually they start chasing Dr. Steven Strange instead.
The film ends with Nash receiving the Noble prize for defeating Paranoid Schizophrenia through will power alone. He gives all credit to his wife in his speech. While that sounds nice on paper, he delivers it with an unmistakable amount of spite and regret for the amazing cosmic life he could have led had he not been blinded by love.
Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. The tragedy of John Nash is that he had his shot at greatness and threw it away. The film ends after his death, as autopsy technicians remove his brain and find a prism within that contains every known color in the universe. He truly had a Beautiful Mind.