It is said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. So why is there never a genius around when you need one? The 1% is very rare, and few who have the big ideas are stable enough to do anything about them. That’s where the ones who love these crazy people come in.
In Proof , Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) is sitting in a dark house, with her father, on her birthday. Robert (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant and famous mathematician, went off his rocker at 27, about the age she is now. She’s a lot like her dad; she’s studying mathematics at Northwestern, and her mood is becoming unstable.
"How do you know if you’re crazy?" She asks him.
"Because crazy people don’t sit down and wonder if they’re crazy."
"But you admit it."
"Ah, but that’s because I’m dead."
Robert did, in fact, die of a brain aneurism, at 63, one week ago. The funeral is tomorrow. Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), one of his grad students, has been allowed to root through the great man’s office. There are 130 of the professor’s notebooks up there, every page filled with tiny printing. The notebooks are probably worthless, but Hal hopes to find within their pages a last flicker of brilliance from the teacher he loved.
Hal is afraid that he’s already past his prime as a mathematician; the great ones made their contributions by age 23. If he found something important in the notebooks, would he steal it? Catherine and Hal seem romantically suited, but she doesn’t trust him — she doesn’t trust anything — and it’s her fear that’s making her crazy.
The film’s final important character is Claire (Hope Davis), Catherine’s older sister. She is the picture of health; she has just been promoted and has gotten engaged. Her every conversation is one-sided prattling about the mundane details of her bourgeois life:
"You should try the conditioner I gave you. It has jojoba."
"It makes your hair healthy."
"Hair is dead."
"All I know is it makes my hair feel good."
"By adding a chemical?"
"It’s not a chemical, it’s organic."
"Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean it’s not a chemical. Ever hear of organic chemistry?"
In subtle ways, Claire makes Catherine feel crazy. Yet it was Catherine who gave up school and spent five years taking care of her father in that little house. Catherine was already in the shadow of her father’s charisma and reputation. Imagine how difficult it must have been for her, trapped with him while his boundaries of self broke down. Maybe she’s not as weak, or crazy, as we think.
I hope I’ve given you a sense of how fine the dialog is – funny, revealing, full of twists and turns. The screenplay was co-adapted by David Auburn, from his play. The film version of Proof was directed by John Madden, who doesn’t impose a visual sense upon it, but who knows where to put the camera for maximum effect. Madden also directed Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love . In the intervening years, Paltrow has grown from bewitching to real actress; and now Madden has made a second movie as solid as the first.
Catch Proof , if you can, at Showplace East. This and other theater and music reviews are available online at wfiu.indiana.edu. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.