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A Beautiful Mind – Film Music Review by Andrew Klay

Director: Ron Howard
Composer: James Horner

I consider A Beautiful Mind to be one of James Horner’s most imaginative and transcendent scores, adding a facet of stunning complexity to Ron Howard’s film. Though it did not win an Oscar for Best Original Score, it did get nominated and came close. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and that simply wouldn’t have been possible without James Horner’s music.

This time, Horner chose to score conceptually, writing for the character and not the scene. The opening titles reveal the brilliant inner workings of John Nash’s mind. This track, entitled “Kaleidoscope of Mathematics,” is patterned after Nash’s logically scattered thought process, and is repeated whenever he interacts with his equations. It is as if the whole outside world is put on hold and nothing else exists. It is a melody lost in the vastness of the figurative unknown, as is Nash himself.

The melody is based off of principles of minimalism, which may sound strikingly odd at first glance. Echoing the works of Philip Glass, minimalism simply denotes a repetition of musical phrases and ideas with evolving chord structures. “Kaleidoscope” and the next track, “Governing Dynamics” demonstrate this principle by pairing the same right-hand pattern on the piano with constantly changing chord variations in the left hand.

Horner selected the then-teenage prodigy Charlotte Church for the film’s vocals. He explained that he was seeking a vocal quality that was neither child nor adult, and Church embodied this attribute. Her voice becomes an instrument to symbolize Nash’s psychological state, carrying us into his very soul.

The next identifiable theme in the film is apparent when Nash descends into an inescapable world of delusionary expectations. I chose “The Car Chase” to illustrate James Horner’s ability to write for the character, not the scene. Someone listening to this music out of context would not picture a car chase, but the music beautifully depicts the anguish and fear John Nash experiences when his delusions begin to take over.

A third recognizable theme is that of the unconditional love John’s wife, Alicia, shows for him through her patience and tireless compassion. The melody is hinted at in “Kaleidoscope” but further developed later on. It becomes the ultimate anchor theme at the end of the film, with the others gracefully surrounding it. The theme is introduced in the track entitled “Saying Goodbye to those you Love,” with an oboe duet at the beginning of the cue and a piano solo in the middle. It is brought to fruition in the end credits by a song entitled “All Love Can Be,” performed by Charlotte Church.

The score for A Beautiful Mind connotes feelings of wonder, pity, and finally, admiration for both John and his wife. We stand in awe of John’s ability to manage his misunderstood illness, and we gain a new respect for Alicia, who through good times and bad remained faithful to her husband and his care. This film demonstrates the definition of true love and sacrifice. It is a subject worthy of an inspiring score, which James Horner delivered in such a magnificent way.

Music links

Kaleidoscope of Mathematics
The Car Chase
Saying Goodbye to Those You Love
All Love Can Be
Making of the Score