I came across the synopsis for Proof back in 2008, three years after the movie first released. To be completely honest, I’m not exactly sure how I came across it. I’m assuming that it has something to do with Gwyneth Paltrow because of her connection to Coldplay (I was a really big Coldplay fan a few years ago). Anyways, despite the hazy memory of my discovery, I do remember being intrigued by the synopsis and wanting to watch the movie. However, as the movie had come out a few years ago, I wasn’t quite sure where to watch it. I tried youtube, online websites, etc. but I couldn’t find a clear copy of the movie. I gave up and put away the movie into the recesses of my mind. So imagine my surprise when this movie popped up on my Netflix this year. Naturally, I watched the movie and I’ve decided to review it, as I’m currently trying to do movie reviews.
Proof begins with Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, Catherine, watching TV at night and being surprised by her father (played by Anthony Hopkins) with a bottle of champagne. Turns out, it’s Catherine’s birthday and the two talk about her father’s insanity. However, it turns out that this entire scene itself is a dream as Robert, Catherine’s father, died last week. Catherine wakes up after she comes across Hal, one of Robert’s graduate students, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Apparently, Robert was a mathematical genius who had been suffering from a mental illness that caused him to go insane. Hal had been going through Robert’s journals and books in hopes of finding some new mathematical proofs (Hal would be able to get some credit). Hal and Catherine get into an argument that culminates with Catherine calling the cops on him and him leaving.
The next scene introduces us to Claire, Catherine’s older sister, who arrives from New York (the movie is set in Chicago). Unlike messy Catherine, Claire is an incredibly organized, neurotic person and the two sisters do not really get along. Through flashbacks, it is revealed that before Robert got very sick, Catherine had inherited his mathematical genius. Just as Claire went off to work in New York, Catherine also left to study graduate level math at Northwestern. However, as Robert’s condition deteriorated, Catherine left her studies to come live with their father in order to care for him full time, while Claire continued her career in New York. As a result, Catherine remains bitter towards Claire and other people who knew Robert but never showed up to help him. This is especially evidential during Robert’s funeral, held by the University of Chicago as Robert was formerly a math professor there, where Catherine interrupts the orchestra playing and proceeds to berate all the people present, accusing them of not being there for Robert and only coming to pay their respects after his death. She continues her tirade by delving into some of Robert’s insane activities and then ending her speech by stating her happiness at his death and leaving. This scene also serves to illuminate Claire’s worries that Catherine might have inherited more than just her father’s genius, i.e. Catherine might be susceptible to Robert’s insanity.
After the funeral, a wake is held at Robert and Catherine’s house, wherein Hal and Catherine bond, leading the two to sleep together. She ends up giving him a key. In the morning, Hal realizes that the key unlocks a drawer in Robert’s desk that contains a notebook with a new mathematical proof. Understandably, he’s very excited and brings it to the two sisters. However, this happiness does not last long as Catherine claims to have written the proof, rather than it being written by Robert as everyone else assumed. Claire is of course skeptical, believing that Catherine’s remark is the beginning sign of her descent into insanity. Hal is also disbelieving of Catherine as he believes the proof contains math too complex for her, although he attempts to be diplomatic. Catherine is devastated with this betrayal and breaks down. Hal takes the proof to be examined by the mathematics of UChicago while Claire uses the opportunity to convince a vulnerable Catherine to leave Chicago and move to New York with her and get therapy.
As Catherine and Claire get ready to leave behind Chicago, Hal comes running and reveals that evidence seems to suggest that the proof really was written by Catherine, as it employs newer mathematics that Robert could not have known. Unfortunately, Catherine does not want to talk to Hal and Claire is set on taking Catherine to New York, so the sister’s leave without actually talking to Hal, forcing him to run after their car to toss the proof into Catherine’s lap. The movie then delves into flashback, showing how after moving in with her father, Catherine was challenged to do math together with him. The two worked on math all day and night, as math was one of the few things that kept Robert sane. In the midst of this math writing spree, Catherine writes the proof that Hal eventually discovers. Excited by her discovery, Catherine takes her proof to her father. Upon meeting her, Robert too joyfully tells Catherine that he’s discovered his own new proof. Excited, she begins to read his proof, only for it to be gibberish. She realizes that the mental illness has basically taken over Robert. Saddened, she takes her proof and locks it in a drawer in Robert’s desk, with the flashback ending.
At the airport, Catherine begins reflect on herself. She comes to terms with herself. Throughout the movie, its hinted that Catherine struggles with herself a lot. She wants to be a great mathematician, but not at the expense of her father. She wants to remain connected to him, but she doesn’t want to be continually in his shadow. She wants to move forward but she can’t figure out how. In fact, the movie also points to the parallels between genius and insanity (Catherine and Claire worry over this in regards to Catherine). Bolstered by Hal’s confidence in her, Catherine decides that she does not need to go to New York with her sister and can manage well on her own. Hence, she leaves the airport and goes to the UChicago campus to find Hal and explain the mathematical proof to him, ending the movie.
If it’s not evidential right away, this movie had a really great script. In fact, the movie itself was based upon the Pulitzer Prize winning play, written by David Auburn, and then adapted into the movie. Hence, the plot and dialogues within the movie are actually really great and help the actors. I often find that outlandish or simplistic scripts can really take away from the ambiance of a movie and also cause actors to look foolish. Conversely, a really great script can also really elevate movies and actors. And I feel the latter was the case here. Because the script was so solid, the actors were able to connect and put in a solid performance. Of course I’m not an actor so my opinions have no viable proof (lol) or prior history I can base them on, but from my perception, I think its the case.
Hence, onto the performances in the movie. The movie is obviously centered around Catherine’s character and thus the bulk of the movie relied on Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance. She was actually nominated for an award for this movie too. Personally, I believe that while her performance was definitely really, really good, she wasn’t the only actress who could’ve pulled this off. I think other actresses could’ve definitely acted just as well as her in the movie, if not better. In fact, I kind of felt like that while Paltrow did a decent job, she was lacking gravitas in some scenes. It’s difficult to articulate properly, but in terms of math (lol), when rating her acting on a scale from o to 100, wherein 100 represents her completely disappearing into the character and engaging the viewer completely (i.e. Amy Adams as Giselle from Enchanted), I felt like she was around 80. Definitely not bad, pretty good actually, but as I said earlier, another actress could have perhaps done it just as well, if not better. Nonetheless, she did manage to carry the movie on her shoulders.
Coming to the other actors, Jake Gyllenhaal was good as usual. His character actually did not have much to do but he was good in the scenes he was in. I surprisingly kind of liked the chemistry between him and Paltrow, I thought they acted well across each other. And Anthony Hopkins was great as always, as was Hope Davis as Claire. The combination of a solid script with some solid actors yielded good results, as was expected. When talking about directing and cinamatography, the two were decent as well. Nothing ground-breaking per se, but still enjoyable. I kind of enjoyed how the movie was shot in this very somber sort of manner. There were no outlandish, crazy shots (okay maybe some shots of moving scenery but I think those worked really well) and there was this general sort of serious vibe in the movie. I quite enjoyed it and thought was really good because although the script was solid and contained good drama, any director could’ve gone overboard with trying to present drama through shots rather than letting the script take center stage. Luckily though, that didn’t happen and everything combined to make for an enjoyable viewing experience.
My rating: watch it to witness a wonderfully complex character and enjoy the absolutely wonderful script. Buy it if you’d like to be able to return to the character and script at any time.