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Practice makes perfect

已有 4691 次阅读 2010-12-14 23:57 |个人分类:英语课堂素材 Materials from Classroom|系统分类:教学心得| English, IELTS, skills

Practice makes perfect

Do you like to watch films?

You bet. And I just watched a film last Saturday called A Beautiful Mind by Director Ron Howard.

A Beautiful Mind


A Beautiful Mind is a touching, emotionally charged film detailing the life of a brilliant academic who suffers from schizophrenia. This affliction slowly takes over his mind and we watch as his life crumbles apart around him. He abandons his students, alienates his colleagues and replaces his research with a fruitless and all-consuming obsession. Eventually he is taken into hospital where he is forced, with the help of electric-shock therapy and regular medication, to accept his condition and attempt to repair the shattered fragments of his life.

He succeeds. Of course he succeeds, this is Hollywood and Hollywood likes a happy ending. In this case the happy ending is that, as an old man and after years of struggle, the poor academic is awarded the Nobel Prize. One interesting point though; it's a true story and our hero is none other than John Forbes Nash Jr.

As a young man, John Nash was a mathematical genius. In 1947 he went to Princeton on a Carnegie Scholarship, and after three years had produced a 27-page dissertation for his doctorate in which he greatly expanded the field of Game Theory, transporting it from a position of relative obscurity into one of almost universal relevance.

In the 1920s the father of Game Theory, Hungarian mathematician John von Neumann, had shown that mathematical models could be used to explain the behaviour of players in simple games. His work was limited in scope however, and although interesting, it appeared to be of little practical use.

Nash's dissertation expanded on von Neumann's work, showing how Game Theory could explain complex as well as simple competitive behaviour. It wasn't a comprehensive solution to all game situations, but it did lay the foundations for the huge body of work on Game Theory which has been produced since.

Unfortunately, very little of this comes across in A Beautiful Mind because the director (Ron Howard) seems more interested in making a film about a schizophrenic than a mathematician suffering from schizophrenia. At the start of the film we are shown a Hollywood template of a typically obsessive young academic, introverted, socially inept, dismissive of his colleagues' work. If the notes we see Nash scribbling on his windows were chemical formulae or rhyming couplets rather than mathematical equations, the character would have seemed equally plausible.

This is not to say that Russell Crowe, who plays Nash, does a bad job. Indeed, he succeeds in giving his character a convincing plausibility rarely seen in mainstream cinema these days, and he was certainly a deserving Oscar nominee. It's just that we never see him doing any maths apart from the occasional scribbling on windows.

And when his great breakthrough finally comes, Nash is not poring over his books in the library or gazing fixedly at his glass equivalent of a blackboard, he's in a bar, eyeing up a group of attractive young women. How visually convenient.

But to be fair, this is a dramatisation based on Sylvia Nasar's best-selling book, not a documentary. Its aim is to entertain, not to enlighten, and it does this perfectly well. Russell Crowe produces probably his best performance to date and is equally convincing as both the awkward young genius and the tortured convalescent, struggling to rebuild his marriage and career. Jennifer Connolly (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) is excellent as Alicia, Nash's long-suffering wife, and there are several strong performances from the supporting cast, most notably Ed Harris as a mysterious character from the military and Paul Bettany as Nash's Princeton roommate.

But Hollywood requires more from its films than a few good performances; it requires drama, action, romance, pathos, excitement. A Beautiful Mind makes a fair attempt to include all of these ingredients and the results obviously satisfied producers and film-goers alike - it won Oscars for Best Film and Best Director. But for those expecting to see a film about mathematics it is unlikely to satisfy. Early in the film, John Nash describes himself as having "two helpings of brain and half a helping of heart". A Beautiful Mind seems the exact opposite.


Director Ron Howard has created a moving masterpiece, elegantly guiding the audience through John Forbes Nash Jr.'s life starting with Nash as an intense, introverted youth striving for that perfect original idea and ending with Nash as a passionate, patient elderly man battling against his inner demons.

Through Howard's skilled hand and via Russell Crowe's amazingly understated yet incredibly touching performance, Nash's achievements and flaws are exposed without portraying mental illness in a clichéd cinematic form. Crowe's Nash is an honest, disturbing look at the price paid by people who suffer from schizophrenia and the toll it takes on families and friends.

"A Beautiful Mind" lays out the story of mathematical genius John Forbes Nash Jr. as he enters Princeton, a bright student with a limitless future ahead of him. Obsessed with finding a way to prove he truly matters, he competes with the other students in Princeton's brutally competitive math department, all of whom are searching for one truly original idea. Inspiration strikes him while he's studying in a local bar surrounded by his rowdy classmates. As they vie for the attention of a stunning blonde, Nash observes their rivalry and, from that, develops his “game theory.” Nash's theory contradicts 150 years of accepted theory and earns him a coveted position at MIT where part of his duty is to teach a course to eager young minds.

Jennifer Connelly enters the film as one of those eager young minds, Alicia Larde. Alicia falls for the nervous, socially inept Nash, inviting him to dinner and starting a romance that breathes life into Nash's carefully ordered world. As Nash's mental condition unveils itself, worsening with time, Alicia is the one true thing in his world that remains steadfast and dependable.

Russell Crowe exquisitely captures Nash's passion for his wife, his work, and his unending hunger for excellence. Jennifer Connelly again proves she's a talented actress capable of conquering characters with depth and emotion. The brilliant supporting cast, including Ed Harris, Paul Bettany, and Adam Goldberg, perfectly create the fuzzy environment where Nash roams. Over the course of little more than two hours, director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman succeed in unfolding a beautiful story of love, despair, perseverance, compassion and pride the likes of which hasn't been seen on screen in many years.

"A Beautiful Mind" is easily one of the finest films of the year and deserves the Oscar buzz that surrounds it. The only real Oscar question is whether Crowe's winning last year will negate a nod this year or will the Academy reward what is clearly the best performance of the year with the golden statue it truly deserves.

Overall Grade: A

"A Beautiful Mind"
is rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, sexual content, and a scene of violence.

Director: Ron Howard
Producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer
Written By: Akiva Goldsman
Director of Photography: Roger Deakins
Film Editors: Mike Hill and Dan Hanley
Production Designer: Wynn Thomas
Composer: James Horner
Costume Designer: Rita Ryack
Casting: Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson
Art Director: Robert Guerra
Set Decorator: Leslie Rollins

John Nash - Russell Crowe
Alicia - Jennifer Connelly
Parcher - Ed Harris
Dr. Rosen - Christopher Plummer
Charles - Paul Bettany
Sol - Adam Goldberg
Hansen - Josh Lucas
Marcee - Vivien Cardone
Bender - Anthony Rapp
Ainsley - Jason Gray-Stanford
Helinger - Judd Hirsch
Thomas King - Austin Pendleton
Professor Horner - Victor Steinbach



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