A Beautiful Mess Produces Many Responses

Controversy Around A Beautiful Mind | Alicia Keys and India.Arie 

A Beautiful Mess Produces Many Responses

We've gotten a lot of feedback about the controversy surrounding A Beautiful Mind. A box-office hit, it's obviously a movie that people like. And no one wants to be told that his or her taste is bad.

Personally, I thought the movie was going to be a huge hit when I saw it, and certainly an award winner. It starts with a bang, and Russell Crowe is dead-on from the first scene.

But learning afterward about the tremendous license taken with the story, I was chagrined. When a film's subject is non-fiction, a filmmaker has the same responsibility as a journalist: to report truthfully the facts of the story.

In this case, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman excluded several salient points, the least of which is John Forbes Nash's alleged homosexuality. I was even more startled to learn that Jennifer Connelly's character was reinvented to be a loyal wife who was the mother of Nash's beloved child.

Instead, it turns out that Nash had an illegitimate child with another woman, and that his marriage to Alicia was so stormy that she divorced him and then remarried him. So much for a love story.

What's worse is that Goldsman and director Ron Howard — whose films Apollo 13, Cocoon, Parenthood and Ransom I've enjoyed tremendously — invented story points to make the movie more dramatic.

The presentation of pens at Princeton, for example, frames the movie. When Nash finally receives his pens it's a form of validation by his peers. But if this never happened, where is the veracity in the movie?

Trust me, if filmmakers took such licenses with the life stories of FOXNews.com readers, they'd be upset. And the audience should be upset too because a solemn trust has been broken.

The other day this column interviewed Betina Raphan, the maker of a short and highly informative film about Nash which I saw at the Sundance Film Festival quite by accident — it preceded the film I intended to see about literary theorist Jacques Derrida. After it was over, I wanted to hear what Raphan's take on A Beautiful Mind was since she obviously knew a lot about the subject — certainly a lot more than I.

So far, articles have appeared in many publications questioning the veracity of A Beautiful Mind. The first one was A.O. Scott's review in The New York Times, which called the film "counterfeit." Since then the Los Angeles Times and Entertainment Weekly have brought to the fore questions about the Nash story.

Karen Valby — whom I do not know — wrote in the Jan. 25 issue of EW:

"[Sylvia Nasar's] 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."

These criticisms don't disparage Howard's movie-making abilities; he certainly made a good movie. The question is whether or not the movie he made has been faithful to the facts of the story. I'll bet even he's thinking it would have been easier to make a movie about a fictional character who was a genius with schizophrenia.

Which movie will win the Oscar? Frankly, at this point I have no preference, although readers of this column know that I lean toward Christopher Nolan's exceptional Memento. I'd also like to see Denzel Washington finally get rewarded for doing so much fine work over his career.

In the actress category, Sissy Spacek, Judi Dench and Nicole Kidman seemed tied in a three-way race. For best director, there's no question that Robert Altman has done excellent work with Gosford Park. Politics aside, he's my cinematic hero. But I doubt things will work out for him this year.

Here are a couple of letters that came in this week regarding A Beautiful Mind. Most of the letters were from fans of the movie, but Scott Mandrell wrote:

"I really enjoyed your critique of the content of the movie adaptation of Sylvia Nasar's book. I thought it simplified the disease in a way that will allow far too many people in future to conclude that all one has to do to 'recover' is think logically and have a supportive family. As a result, I walked away from it wondering what else about the movie was bogus.

"Born and brought up in NJ and very familiar with Princeton I was absolutely staggered by the scene with the pens as I thought that was a hell of a lot of license to take with the traditions of a university as old as Princeton.

"It's kind of comforting to know that I am not the only person who had doubts. And it's really infuriating to know that Nash never made that speech at the Nobel award ceremony as well as being portrayed as some kind of rough innocent who never has a relationship until he is 'saved' from terminal loneliness by his future wife. That surpasses dramatic license and passes into dramatic rape of the truth.

"I can understand why someone who made an accurate documentary about a man who truly is remarkable (if for no other reason than that he did create game theory whatever his personal challenges) might feel hard done by a feature film that basically contradicts her work.

"Thank you for bringing to the world's attention …"

Jay Volpe wrote:

"I especially appreciate your inclusion of Memento as a Best Picture contender; it's a truly amazing piece of filmmaking. (Months later, I'm still pondering that one.) Guy Pearce not only inhabited that role, it's difficult to believe, as the credits scrawl, that he's actually an actor playing a part. What a performance. Joe Pantoliano also contributed to that film."

P.Z. wrote:

"I'm glad to hear there is controversy over the film and the book, A Beautiful Mind. I went to see it because I was married to a schizophrenic for five years. I knew what I should be seeing. But I wanted to see how they would portray one on film. Crowe did a great job, but I couldn't believe the relationship between Nash and his wife. When I found out that the film wasn't like the book, I was relieved. I knew it had been glossed over. It was like having bad sex — knowing what it could be, but being left with that unsatisfied feeling. I hope it does not win for best picture although Crowe should for his great acting job. He didn't sell out; he did what was asked of him. Howard, however, is still doing Happy Days."

Alicia Gets Grammy Boost, but India Missing

The biggest jump for Grammy nominees in CD sales this week came for Alicia Keys, whose Songs in A Minor moved 51,545 copies. The album is now in the reaches of four million copies. Keys is currently on a sell-out tour of the northeast. No one deserves the success more. My only regret is that the album itself wasn't nominated for a Grammy. But she should win best song, best record and best new artist.

Meantime, surprise nominee India.Arie's Acoustic Soul has not been catalyzed by her seven Grammy nominations, including best album. Too bad, since Acoustic Soul is very much the 2001 version of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, a very complex and textured recording that could find a wide audience with the right push.

And, you may wonder whatever happened to Michael Jackson? His Invincible album, one of the great flops in music history, floats around No. 24 from week to week, selling around 40,000 copies. The anemic total comes to about 1.7 million domestically. That's not enough to cover llama feedings, or so I am told.