I was sucked into TV last weekend, by two treatments of the association between (mathematical) creative genius and mental illness, as provided by films on consecutive evenings: A Beautiful Mind and Proof.
A Beautiful Mind is a multiple award winner that vehicled the supposed versatility of the usually macho-dimensional Russell Crowe, who gets the opportunity to mumble and shuffle around, and get made up to look old, because that always gets us, right? This kind of stuff is a dead cert for nomination: a big name actor playing a real life character – mathematician John Nash – who throws a wobbly, but comes through to violin-accompanied acclaim late in life, with the faux pen award scene (which you knew was coming from early in the film when it was ‘previewed’ – sorry if I’ve spoilt that for you in case you haven’t seen it), a shamelessly typical travestying appendage designed to invoke pathos and moisten your eyes. Bleeeuch! Formulaic Hollywood mauling of what is surely an interesting enough true-life human story. But I now have no interest in reading the book.
Proof, however, so far as I know, garnered somewhat fewer accolades. Due, one might wonder, to being a fictional work, based on a play. Despite the fact that Gwyneth Paltrow, who makes few bad choices (save, perhaps, overrated derivative rock bands), is so damn believably good as a potentially gifted young woman forced to suspend her education in order to care for her mentally ill father (the great, but would be even greater if he just stuck to the good parts, Anthony Hopkins), and troubled by the possibility that she may have inherited his insanity, as well as his mathematical talent. Fiction, but with better dialogue and more interesting supporting characters, it was not only riveting, but somehow more plausible. The book is now in my Amazon basket.
Okay, okay, doubtless you’ll be able to come up with arguable exceptions to this. I’m sure I’ll come up with a few myself. It’s not that I’ve anything against artistic merging of fact and fiction. Filmmakers embellishing true stories are just, well, story-telling. The telling of it is never actually the truth of it. But don’t make a true story less interesting.
Anyhow, we need more ‘crazy scientists’, apparently. We might get better films for one thing.