X + Y : A Beautiful Young Mind [Review] 2014
The film is one of the three universal languages, the other two: mathematics and music.
– Frank Capra
A film whose name sounds as weird as X + Y (A Beautiful Young Mind), whose plot may put you off & provide you snooze fest, X + Y is unexpectedly the most beautiful film you will see in recent times. Surprisingly, it has good music and mathematics as an essential element. It is the sheer beauty of splendid writing, exemplary direction from prolific documentary director Morgan Matthews & top-notch performance from its lead character that makes this film worth a double watch.
X+Y is a fictional version of Morgan Matthews’s own BAFTA nominated TV documentary ‘Beautiful Young Minds’ that dealt with a group of British high school students preparing for the International Mathematical Olympiad. Like his documentary, this debut feature film deals with the autistic kid who has a hard time connecting with humans including parents, who is socially crippled but loves mathematics and patterns a lot.
X + Y opens with a monologue from Nathan which almost sums up his feeling, “I find any communication of a non-mathematical nature very difficult.” Nathan (Butterfield) is introvert, shy, and has superpowers according to his dad, which muggles like him can’t understand. So when his mother goes to pick up a takeaway dinner, it becomes hard for her to place an Order no 47 with seven prawn balls(it actually has six prawn balls). That is because Nathan is fussy about food and he likes eating a prime number only.
After the loss of his father in a car accident who only could understand Nathan among all, Nathan finds it’s difficult to have a conversation with anyone including his mother. He thinks her mother is not clever enough to understand, who ironically flunked in mathematics in school. Nathan sees hope when he meets multiple sclerosis suffering Martin (Spall) who himself competed in the International Mathematical Olympiad. Martin takes Nathan under his wing and tutors him for International Mathematical Olympiad. Nathan, on his travel to Taiwan for preparation of upcoming Olympiad, meets a new set of gifted maths students and initially, he is little reclusive and resistant to this change. He starts opening up a little to his paired up Chinese girl (Yang), who shares exact emotion for maths & Chinese food.
X + Y : A Beautiful Young Mind doesn’t entirely deal with autism, but very subtly it deals with loneliness, autism, companion-ship, loss, romance and coping with the loss of someone important in life. Thanks to the palpating performance from Asa Butterfield and smart cinematography to simulate synesthesia & sensory fixations using colours, we can get inside the head of Nathan and sympathize with his condition. Butterfield is emerging as a terrific young actor who previously starred in The Boy In Striped Pyjamas, Hugo and Ender’s Game.
Look at the scene where he explains the Card problem on board, it may have descended into cliche and over-dramatic scene but Butterfield makes the victory of Nathan very subtle, still, you can not stop yourself hooting for him.
The character of Sally Hawkins – Julie – as the mother of Nathan is another dimension of the film that has been handled with care. She is herself grieving over the loss of her husband and then her son not expressing anything to her adds to her loneliness. She finds solace in the company of Nathan’s teacher Martin, but unfortunately, that plot is not handled properly. And that dampens the almost perfect film. The other subplot that has been overlooked is of a character Luke who has severe autism.
X + Y : A Beautiful Young Mind is endearing, profoundly emotional, little dramatic but more realistic, a challenging film was done without breaking a sweat. It has more than a few mathematics puzzles that may come as jargon for many people, even for mathematics genius, but they never hamper the flow of this beautiful film. Matthews avoids cliches & stereotypes to create tangible people coping with the pressures of the world around them. The film doesn’t make you think harder, it is not a cerebral film entirely, but simply taps the nerve that connects to your heart. Last but not least, it has one of the best OSTs of this year.