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"Nash finally wins out over so-called reality in his own way, and he does so by recognizing that love is the greatest reality."
Raymond Teague is the author of Reel
Spirit: A Guide to Movies That
He is an award-winning
His book is available by clicking the "Buy the Book" link above or by clicking here.
"Reel Spirit" Movie Reviews
A Beautiful Mind
One of my favorite lines in filmdom is from Harvey, the 1950 comedy in which Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) says, "I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it."
Introspective seekers of Meaning frequently find themselves conflicted over the reality experienced in the physical world of the senses and the reality perceived or intuited in the metaphysical world of imagination, insight, and spirit.
Many movies these days, mirroring as cinema always has done society's search for ultimate Truth, are increasingly wrestling with the nature of reality. Thought-provoking recent reality checks include the films Vanilla Sky, Waking Life, The Others, and K-PAX.
A Beautiful Mind is the semi-fictional story of noted mathematician John Forbes Nash, who won the 1994 Nobel Prize for a theory that has become a cornerstone of modern economics. That Nash, played by Russell Crowe, has a brilliant mind - and a fantastic head for numbers - is clearly evident from the beginning of the film when he enters Princeton in 1947.
What also soon becomes evident, and comprises the theme of the film, is that a brilliant mind isn't truly a beautiful one until the mind and the heart are joined.
Significantly, Nash says that a teacher once told him that he was given two helpings of brains, but "only half a helping of heart." When the mind - the thinking activity of the individual - is not centered in the consciousness of the heart - the feeling, intuitive center of spiritual presence and power within - a person senses a void within himself or herself.
A balanced life as "a spiritual being having a human experience" is one in which the mind and heart work in harmony. A nineteenth-century Russian mystic, St. Theophane the Recluse, directed people to "stand before God with your mind in your heart, and love him." Our goal is to be able to turn the human reasoning abilities over to the loving energy of the heart, and thus experience the peace, joy, love, and beauty that are the essence of God throughout all life. "As a man thinketh in the right hemisphere" (Proverbs), he experiences the fullness of life's blessings.
A Beautiful Mind chronicles Nash's torturous journey to place his mind in his heart, to discover the logic and abstract purpose of love in addition to the logic and concrete sense of reason (represented by mathematics). Lost in his two helping of brains and not knowing how to relate to his heart or to reach out to others, Nash's reality becomes divided. His mind plays tricks on him, and he doesn't always know the difference between physical reality and mental imagination.
Through the steadfast love of his wife, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) Nash slowly comes to understand the value of love. The overall message of the film, and the great lesson that Nash says he learns, is very much in keeping with the old saying "love conquers all."
At one point, Nash says about overcoming his schizophrenic condition, "I can do this. I can work it out. All I need is time." Time does help - the time to experience Alicia's love and time to understand the effects of unconditional love.
"You want to know what's real?" Alicia asks her husband. "This," she replies, touching him and herself. She tells him that perhaps the part of him that knows the waking world from the dream world is not the mind, as he has thought, but the heart.
Alicia shows John not only the value of discovering love but also the value of having faith. "I need to believe that something extraordinary is possible," she tells him. The film, directed by Ron Howard and written by Akiva Goldsman based on Sylvia Nasar's book, movingly shows how that love and faith are rewarded.
From a psychological and spiritual perspective, it's interesting to examine the three principal people who frequent Nash's alternate reality. First, there is Charles (Paul Bettany), who describes himself as "the prodigal roommate." In the biblical story of the prodigal son, a father welcomes his wayward son home with open, forgiving arms.
For most of his life, Nash repeatedly welcomes Charles, who actually represents a part of Nash that unconsciously yearns for that better balance between the mind and the heart. At the soul level, Nash wholeheartedly embraces Charles.
Early in their relationship, Charles tells Nash, "Mathematics is never going to lead you to higher truth," but Nash does not listen to him or understand him. Although Nash wants to rely on numbers and wants the world to be tidied up with figures, Charles tells him, "Nothing's ever for sure, John."
Through the personality of Charles, Nash keeps giving himself clues (at first unheeded) that there may be more to life than meets the logical mind. Nash's earlier admittance that he may have "only half a helping of heart" is indication that he probably does have some awareness of his lack.
Nash has a fondness for Charles's niece, who perhaps represents the love from his own childhood that he has not properly acknowledged. Through the mysterious government agent Parcher (Ed Harris), Nash places himself in a comic-book-like fantasy of fame, intrigue, and heroism. It's the sort of fantasy that one would not expect from a logical mind, but makes sense when viewed as coming from Nash's repressed heart center.
Nash's soul longs for that mind-heart connection, and that connection starts appearing in the most unlikely ways. Parcher tells Nash, "Man is as capable of as much atrocity as he has imagination." Nash's imagined scenarios are of atrocities, but through these scenarios and their effects on people in the "real world," Nash perhaps comes to understand that people also are capable of as much love as they have imagination.
As Nash's mind increasingly becomes centered in his heart consciousness, he learns to put his imaginary companions in perspective. Being highly symbolic, useful and an aspect of him, the fantasies are a part of Nash's reality, whether physical or not. "It's in your mind," Alicia says of John's secret activities. But in some sense, perhaps everything is in the mind, and dreams and imaginings are just as "real" as the waking world. Recent films about reality certainly suggest that such is the case.
Like Elwood in Harvey, Nash finally wins out over so-called reality in his own way, and he does so by recognizing that love is the greatest reality.