Young Nathan (Asa Butterfield) has issues interacting with people. Diagnosed as on the autistic spectrum (with a little bit of synesthesia), Nathan much prefers patterns and numbers – making him a wiz at mathematics. He shared a special connection with his father, but after dad perished in a vehicular collision, Nathan withdrew even further, and burrowed deeper into mathematics. His mother (Sally Hawkins), unable to connect with her son, signed him up for personal advanced tutoring from wasted genius Martin (Rafe Spall). Clever enough to make the cut, Nathan travels to Taiwan with the UK team of young mathematicians to prepare for the qualifying test to compete in the International Mathematical Olympiad. But while in Taiwan, Nathan learns more about relationships, love, and himself than he does about math.
There’s a lot going on in Morgan Matthews’ A Brilliant Young Mind, but there’s majesty in the way the characters’ stories are woven together. Like a quilt of many parts stitched together to make a whole, every scene and every line of dialogue makes the film come together – it drapes a warm sense of security over us. It’s just as much about the journey as it is the climax – all events perfectly lead to a final scene between Nathan and his mother, where after seven years they finally connect. Emotional, heartwarming and funny, A Beautiful Young Mind is reassuringly human.
Each character has their own unique voice. In the relatively short time you spend with these people, audiences walk away feeling as though they’ve gotten to know and understand who these characters are – from Nathan, to his given-up-on-life tutor, to his friendly-faced jerk of a coach; nobody exists to simply fill a role.
Morgan Matthew’s direction not only crafts a wonderfully told story, but a visually satisfying experience. Nothing fancy is done to take you out of the experience, while beautiful and vibrant colours appear in transitional sequences to give the audience a little taste of what Nathan’s synesthesia might feel like. Likewise, the film is brilliantly scored, making use of folk musician Keaton Henson’s tracks in a way that’s actually evocative and contributing to the film’s mandate of nothing being there just for the sake of it.
In the end, A Brilliant Young Mind isn’t at all about mathematics, it’s a film about people and human relationships – a sign of a true understanding of what cinema and film should be.
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Trevor Jeffery: @TrevorSJeffery