To: The Members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Fr: Karen Auguston Field
Subj: Oscar nominations
In a few short days, you will be casting your vote for the Oscar winners. Although I doubt that public opinion has any influence whatsoever on your decision (Dances with Wolves—what were you thinking?), I feel compelled to register a complaint about one of your nominations for Best Movie of the Year.
I recently went to see A Beautiful Mind. Since you probably see tons of movies all year long, let me remind you that it's the film that's supposed to win Russell Crowe back-to-back Best Actor Awards. I mean it's the one about John Nash, the Nobel-prize-winning mathematician and his life-long struggle with schizophrenia.
Crowe is an excellent actor and everything, but for a movie supposedly about a mathematician, it's pretty light on the actual math. Maybe we engineers have unrealistic expectations when it comes to the numerical content of anything to do with popular culture. But you have to admit that numbers of any sort get very little screen time compared to all the romance, intrigue, and hallucinations.
Okay, I admit that Nash didn't have all that many productive years. But in the little time he had, he came up with some brilliant stuff—particularly in the area of game theory. Take The Prisoner's Dilemma, which involves two players in a non-zero-sum game. It has such wonderful application not only in criminal cases, but in everyday life as well!
In fact, just the other day Nash's invention helped me smooth over a little family matter. My mother was wondering why we never put up a painting she gave us for our wedding five years ago. I told her that it's my husband who doesn't really like it, although velvet isn't a particular favorite of mine, either. Okay, I know it seems like I hung him out to dry, but isn't that better than hanging bad art on the wall? They're currently not on speaking terms. But I keep telling him that at least I'm still in the will.
So, members, I beseech you: Feel free to give A Beautiful Mind an award for Best Actor, or Best Director, or any of the other nominations it received. But handing out an award for Best Movie to a film about a mathematician that's light on math? It just doesn't add up. (And readers, check out the book if you want to know about the real John Nash and his work.)