Roger Ebert Home

Campaign directed against 'Beautiful' is ugly, unwarranted

Judging by the attacks against it, "A Beautiful Mind" is the most reprehensible film of the year. Amazing it was made, let alone nominated for an Academy Award. The mugging of this film is the most disturbing element of this year's Oscar season.

Ron Howard's film stars Russell Crowe as John Forbes Nash Jr., a schizophrenic who won the Nobel Prize for mathematics. We see him struggling with demons and fantasies, aided by a loyal wife (Jennifer Connelly). Like Nash, the audience is sometimes deluded about what's real in the story, and what is a phantasm. The film is well written, directed and acted. But the film's detractors see more, or less. They charge:

Nash has been whitewashed; the film suppresses the facts that he fathered a child out of wedlock, and refused to support it, was bisexual, and faced molestation charges after an incident in a public toilet.

A book about Nash reports him making anti-Semitic comments. Joy Behar on "The View" said the movie should have included that behavior.

Would she have preferred a movie about an anti-Semite who wins the Nobel?

Russell Crowe, angry that the British Academy Awards telecast edited out four lines of poetry in his speech, pushed and shoved the director of the program.

Press Release: "Claiming that the film 'A Beautiful Mind' distorts the life of John Nash, a coalition of 100 mental health advocacy groups issued a public statement today to Universal asking for an apology and retraction." The coalition is angry about a USA Today article reporting that "this brilliant mathematician stopped taking antipsychotic drugs in 1970 and slowly recovered over two decades."

My thoughts:

The movie is caught in the controversy between those supporting drugs in the treatment of schizophrenia, and those interested in other approaches. The coalition is really disturbed not because the movie changed the facts, but because it didn't change them enough; in the film, Nash speaks of "newer medications" that in real life he was not taking, so they should be calling for an apology from USA Today, not the studio.**A schizophrenic has a serious mental illness, yet Behar and others hold him to the standard of a healthy person. Who knows what he thought he was doing, or saying, during the episodes involving sex and anti-Semitism? In the film, he lives with imaginary characters for years. To say he should have "sought treatment" is to assume he was sane enough to do so, and to ignore his belief that medication would cloud his mathematical work.

Crowe has a hot head, but he also has a point. Awards shows are inflated with endless gassy lists of people the winners want to thank. Crowe read four lines by Patrick Kavanaugh that directly express his humility as an artist. Cutting them made his speech pointless.

Are the attacks against "A Beautiful Mind" orchestrated? "I'm not going to reveal my sources," says the Web's Matt Drudge, whose report on the anti-Semitic remarks caused an uproar. His statement tips his hand: He didn't find out about the statements himself, but was told about them.Isn't he missing the real story--that someone came to him with a vested interest in hurting the film?

"If you are a responsible writer," says shell-shocked Universal chairman Stacey Snider, "you don't take statements out of context that someone made during a 35-year battle with schizophrenia."


"A Beautiful Mind" is a parable about triumph in the face of disaster, not a drive-by shooting.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

Latest blog posts

Latest reviews


comments powered by Disqus