by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
January 23, 2001
OUR BEAUTIFUL MR. NASH
SEATTLE, Wash. -- Editor's Note: Those who have lived the last 40 years or so in Princeton may make better senseof this story than the rest of us. I have just had the oddest experience. An hour ago I went to a movie a few blocks down the hill from where I live to see Ron Howard's film "A Beautiful Mind."
My plan was to see the movie (if only to see Princeton, frankly) and then to come straight home and write an INK SOUP about it. With the deadline upon me, my mind was perfectly bare of any suitable topic, as infact it sometimes is right up to the last sentence. "And beyond!" That was Dr. Soup laughing in his corner, but pay noattention. He is out of sorts, as usual.
It turned out to be a three-hanky movie, not only for me but also foreveryone else, unless my ears misled me. We wept at the horrible pain that John Nash endured, and then we wept at the glorious triumph over allthat pain. His speech at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm was barely audible over the sobbing. Not that there weren't funny bits, too. But mostly we cried.
Now that I'm home and settled at the computer with my cup of Ginseng tea I feel that another good cry is coming -- a cry over the stupidity ofmy plan to write about the film in a column that is, I like to believe, sometimes read in Princeton's daily newspaper, the Trenton Times.
To write for my former fellow townspeople about our Mr. Nash and the film they've made of his life would be rather like telling the citizens of Pompei what it feels like when Vesuvius erupts and covers everyone with cinders and ashes. No one who spent the last half of the last century on and about the campus of Princeton University can fail to have known Mr. Nash as the fixture he was on Nassau Street.
And to have known him only in that way, for practically no one knew who he in fact was. The only people of my acquaintance who actually knew Mr. Nash were Miss Kenny, the librarian of the Mathematics Library inFine Hall, and Harold Kuhn, a Professor in the math department. One knew Mr. Nash as one knew other familiar but unremarkable features of the campus and town, so that not to have seen him as one walked over to the bank or the Balt, say, would have left one with the feeling that something, hard to say what, was not quite right. It would have been as if all the black squirrels had vanished. Or as if someone had altered the motto on Alexander Hall to read DEI SUB NUMINE VIGGLE.
A critic writing in the New York Times faulted the film for taking liberties with the actual story of John Forbes Nash as recorded by Sylvia Nasar in her biography, which Ron Howard was ostensibly turning into a film.
I am perfectly free of the handicap of having read her book, so I enjoyed the picture unencumbered by the facts.
I enjoyed one of the supreme pleasures of those who have paid to be duped by a magician. I was amazed that Mr. Nash had been recruited by the CIA to crack Soviet codes by scanning the pages of newspapers and magazines, and then I was delighted to discover that I had been expertly conned: that all this was a part of the delusion from which he had suffered.
As we filed out of the theater one patron grumbled that they should have filled the whole movie with that, since "who cares about equations?"
No, it won't do. I'll have to come up with something else for the column.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus ofComparative Literature at Princeton University.