John Nash, Take Two
'A Brilliant Madness' offers documentary view of mathematician's story
Haven't had enough yet of John Nash, the schizophrenic, Nobel Prize-winning mathematician whose life story is related in Sylvia Nasar's tome A Beautiful Mind and whose experiences also inspired the Oscar-winning film of the same title? A Brilliant Madness, a 52-minute documentary screening in Austin this Wednesday, offers another timely -- and informative -- take on the subject. Filmmaker Mark Samels uses conventional documentary strategies in this filmic attempt to better understand Nash and his struggles and triumphs over both mental illness and his own genius. His movie provides a wealth of information for anyone who was intrigued by A Beautiful Mind's subject and found the movie opening doorways to additional questions and avenues of investigation. Debates about the biographical condensation of A Beautiful Mind have become a hot-button issue, even though Ron Howard and his filmmaking team have never laid claim to absolute veracity. A Brilliant Madness takes us more deeply into Nash's family background and 30-year struggle with and subsequent re-emergence from schizophrenia. The film uses a plethora of family photographs of Nash as a child and young man and student to flesh out its portrait of this enigmatic genius. These images are interwoven with archival footage and dramatic re-enactments that assume the perspective of the schizophrenic. Samels also makes great use of one-on-one interviews with Nash and various family members and colleagues. The result is a stunning picture of mental illness, its inscrutability, and its potential for remission. The documentary contrasts with A Beautiful Mind in its detail of the schizophrenic experience and its proposition that Nash's recovery was in large measure due to the supportive community provided him by his family and associates. A Brilliant Madness, which was filmed for the PBS series American Experience (where it will air later this month), provides a fascinating companion piece to the recent Oscar winner, amplifying and honing our knowledge of Nash and the experience of mental illness. In connection to the series, PBS has set up a fabulous Web site (www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/nash/index.html ) that offers an array of supplementary biographical information about Nash and material about game theory, schizophrenia, and the making of the documentary, as well as interview clips of John Nash speaking and excepts from his writings.
A Brilliant Madness screens Wednesday, April 10, 7:30pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown (409 Colorado), and is sponsored by the Austin Film Society. Filmmaker Mark Samels will be in attendance at the screening for a Q&A. Cost of admission is $6/general; $4/students, seniors, and AFS members.