#286. Inside the Mind

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

This quote by Arthur Fletcher can be interpreted in many ways aside from its original intent. One of these additional interpretations could be that the imaginations and creative muses of all people are unique and should not be ignored. After all, with as many new and interesting pieces of media being created each day, there seems to be no limitations to what our minds can do. Unfortunately, this power can be a bit overwhelming to some. Much like savants, who have startling mental prowess, usually at the detriment to social skills, many with mental disorders will have overactive minds. When the line between true reality and perceived reality is blurred, problems ensue. This week’s two films examine the effects of overactive minds and what the world looks like inside of them.

A Beautiful MindA Beautiful Mind
Year: 2001
Rating: PG-13
Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours

If Inside Out (2015) taught us anything, it’s that there’s a lot that goes on inside a person’s mind. Besides the variety of emotions we can experience, it’s where we go to solve complex problems, recall memories, or engage our imagination. But what if our imagination compensates for other aspects of our lives? What’s difficult to understand about mental disorders is that people who seem normal on the outside can have their own internal struggles as well. Often, we are shocked to learn that some famous person suffered from depression, mania, or multiple personality disorder. If we can overcome the stigma of issues of the mind, perhaps some headway could be made on the medical front to solve some of these maladies. Of course, sometimes it’s these different mental conditions that give people the creativity and intelligence to solve some of the world’s most interesting problems.

Upon arriving at Princeton University in 1947, John Nash (Russell Crowe) meets his roommate, Charles Herman (Paul Bettany). While John is an up-and-coming mathematician, he gets along with the literary student. One evening, while he socializes with his mathematic friends at a local bar, he accidentally develops a new theory of governing dynamics. This new theory allows him to move to MIT, where he meets Alicia Larde (Jennifer Connelly). He has to be careful around her not to reveal the work he’s doing for the government via his handler, William Parcher (Ed Harris), as it could jeopardize the whole operation. Partly because of this, Alicia becomes suspicious and learns that John is imagining some of the people in his life. She stays with him through his treatment, despite the difficulties it places on their marriage.

Sucker PunchSucker Punch
Year: 2011
Rating: PG-13
Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours

When the world is too difficult to handle, sometimes the only way to make it bearable is to retreat into our minds. If we fabricate fantasies to help us perform simple tasks just to get through our day, then it can be easier to deal with the harsh realities of our situation. The trouble with this approach is understanding where the line between fantasy and reality lies. After extended time in a fantasy, it becomes difficult to know what reality is. This was one of the main problems encountered in Inception (2010). Manipulating dreams inside the mind of a target is just as dangerous for the target as it is for those manipulating the dreams. Because it’s easier to create a world where everything works out, suddenly reality no longer has its appeal. I suspect that becoming trapped in our minds will increasingly become a problem as virtual reality becomes more ubiquitous.

After being wrongfully admitted to a mental institution, Babydoll (Emily Browning) escapes into her mind to deal with the harsh realities of her new life. Imagining her new home as a brothel, she connects with four of the other “dancers” in an attempt to escape. Since she is new to the brothel, she is asked to perform a dance. When she begins to move, she delves even deeper into another fantasy world, fighting robotic samurai giants as part of her “dance”. Recognizing her trance-inducing dancing, she continues to dive into these deeper fantasies in order to obtain four items to help her escape. Unfortunately, the owner of the brothel, Blue Jones (Oscar Isaac) gets wise of their plan and Babydoll has to realize that the escape she has been planning isn’t for her, but for one of the other girls. When reality is revealed again, a lobotomy has erased everything in Babydoll’s mind as one of the girls boards a bus to freedom.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 mental manipulations

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#285. Jennifer Connelly

In the world of child actors, very few last long enough to continue working in the industry. Sure, there are exceptions; actors and actresses who eventually develop their craft into award-winning performances. Most people could count the number of these exceptions on one hand. This begs the question: what helps a child actor eventually arrive at success? It is my opinion that the earlier a child actor can work with an excellent director, the greater their chances are of achieving recognition later in life (should they not be hindered by alcohol or drug addiction before then). One of these anomalies is Jennifer Connelly. Her very first role in film was in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984) when she was only 14. She’s only gone up from there. This week’s two films look at Jennifer Connelly’s best roles.

Requiem for a DreamRequiem for a Dream
Year: 2000
Rating: R
Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours

While Sergio Leone’s crime drama was her first role, many consider Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986) to be her breakout performance. That being said, there was plenty more to be desired for her acting. Fortunately, she has managed to stay out of the limelight partly because of her heavy involvement in independent films. Granted, this is often seen as the reason why she mostly appears in darker and more nudity-filled films (which may also be tied to shedding the “child actor” label), but it’s what eventually landed her in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000). If audiences didn’t consider her a serious actress before this film, they certainly do now. A decade and a half later, she would team up with Aronofsky again for the Biblical epic, Noah (2014), but most claim their previous collaboration as one of their best.

Harry (Jared Leto) spends most of his time shooting heroin with his girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly), and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). Because it is such an expensive addiction, they decide to turn to drug dealing in order to pay for the habit, as well as to realize their dreams of starting a business, becoming a clothing designer, and moving out of the slums, respectively. At the same time, Harry’s mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn), is convinced that she has been chosen to appear on TV and takes drastic measures to lose weight so she can wear a favorite dress again. Through this process, she becomes addicted to amphetamines while her son and his posse find their own unwholesome fates, including hospitalization, incarceration, and prostitution. In a hallucination, Sara imagines that the world is all right for her, her son, and his girlfriend. That dream is far from the truth.

A Beautiful MindA Beautiful Mind
Year: 2001
Rating: PG-13
Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours

Another big-name director who cast Connelly in their films was none other than Ron Howard. We all have forgotten about the regrettable The Dilemma (2011), but Jennifer Connelly likely wouldn’t have appeared in that film had she not impressed Howard earlier in her career with her work in Inventing the Abbotts (1997). This inspiration is what led him to cast her, along with Russell Crowe and Ed Harris, in the Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind (2001). Not only did this film win Best Picture and Best Director, but it garnered Jennifer Connelly an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She had already worked with Ed Harris on his directorial debut: Pollock (2000), portraying the mistress of Jackson Pollock (who himself was played by Ed Harris), but it took many years before she appeared in another film across from Russell Crowe: the aforementioned Noah.

John Nash (Russell Crowe) is a promising mathematics student at Princeton University in the late 1940’s. Because of the high hopes for his career, he is under large amounts of stress to publish, but he wants to publish something original, not just a derivative work. While at a bar with his mathematics friends, he develops a new idea that leads to his publication of the Nash equilibrium (a modified game theory). Meanwhile, he falls in love with, and eventually marries, Alicia Larde (Jennifer Connelly). At first, their life together is idyllic, but soon Alicia discovers that John’s roommate in college never existed, and John’s “boss” from the Pentagon also doesn’t exist. Despite John being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and his refusal to take his medication, Alicia stays with him and helps him to an eventual recovery.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 key Jennifer Connelly roles

Bacon #: 2 (A Beautiful Mind / Ed Harris -> Apollo 13 / Kevin Bacon)

#239. Beauty

Perhaps the most subjective adjective in the history of mankind, beauty can be a difficult concept to define. The idiom of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has remained true since the ancient days when the idea was put to words. Often, we find that the context that allowed something to be called beautiful is often lost outside of the culture that used the label at the time. That being said, each of us has a personal preference that is usually fueled in-part by what we would define as “beautiful”. Our five senses can each apply the “beautiful” adjective individually or together as a whole. Sometimes excluding one of our senses can cause something to be beautiful, just because the “ugly” parts are now covered up. I find many films to be beautiful creations, but this week’s two films give some examples of beauty in a dramatic context.

Beauty and the BeastBeauty and the Beast
Year: 1946
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 93 minutes / 1.55 hours

Since beauty is such an abstract concept, it’s no wonder that it can be applied to abstract concepts itself. For instance, the 2001 Best Picture, A Beautiful Mind uses the adjective to define the unique way that John Nash (Russell Crowe) was able to find patterns in everyday situations. Unfortunately, this beauty also had an ugly side-effect: it made Nash paranoid and schizophrenic as he tried to find patterns that weren’t there. It is in these situations where beauty offsets a rather unsettling attribute in order to provide a redeeming value to someone or something that might be overlooked because of this flaw. At a young age, most of us were taught to look past the external surface of others and to see the beauty within. Stories like the Ugly Duckling, the Frog Prince, and Beauty and the Beast teach us that there can be something beautiful covered by an otherwise unseemly exterior.

The eponymous “Beauty” of this film, both literally (as her name is French for “beauty”) and figuratively is that of Belle (Josette Day), a humble girl who has placed it upon herself to take care of her father, even despite marriage proposals from Avenant (Jean Marais). Through an unfortunate series of events, Belle’s father is captured in a magical castle and is only allowed to return home in exchange for his daughter’s freedom. Now trapped rejecting marriage proposals from the Beast (Jean Marais), Belle finds the hairy creature to be reasonable, especially when her father takes ill. In her absence to take care of said father, the Beast is attacked by Avenant. Upon her return, she finds the Beast slowly dying and realizes that she does indeed love him. Through a reversal of fortune, Avenant is turned into a Beast, thus breaking the curse and showing the original Beast to be a handsome prince.

American BeautyAmerican Beauty
Year: 1999
Rating: R
Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours

On the flip side of hidden beauty is the idea that “beauty is only skin-deep”. Many times, something that is visually beautiful can distract from the obvious faults. Much of our American society is focused on the hyper-sexualization presented in advertising since it is touted as the “ideal” of beauty. However, with all of the focus being on the external beauties (especially of women), very few are advocating for the development of inner beauties. This is how we arrive at the “dumb blonde” cliché, which itself is then tied to a number of other clichés including cheerleaders, fashion models, and the narcissistic nature of the exorbitantly wealthy. Fortunately, some things will always be beautiful. These traditionally beautiful objects and experiences will outlast the monetized versions of beauty, or at least it is my deepest hope that they will.

What is beautiful? Is it a meticulously decorated house in the suburbs? Is it the young body of a high school cheerleader? Is it a plastic bag caught in an updraft? In American Beauty, we follow the lives of a group of neighbors as they live their lives. Each one is unique, whether it’s the strict disciplinarian / closet homosexual Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), the obsessively vain housewife / adulteress Carolyn Burnham (Annette Benning), or the emasculated office worker / nostalgia-seeking pedophile Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey). They all have their problems, as do their children, including pot-smoking, free-spirited Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) and angst-filled, unconfident Jane Burnham (Thora Birch). Nevertheless, each has their own definition of beauty set forth in this suburban American neighborhood.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 definitions of beauty