In a budding Beliefnet tradition, we're celebrating Oscar season by talking with five religious leaders and thinkers (listed at right) about each of this year's Best Picture nominees.

Rabbi Laura Geller
Photo byRaffi Alexander,
Spiderbox Photography
The interviews will appear all this week, beginning today with Rabbi Laura Geller, rabbi of Temple Emmanuel in Beverly Hills, a Reform congregation and one the country's largest synagogues. When she was ordained in 1976, Geller was only the third female rabbi in the United States. She was the first woman to be selected as the head rabbi of a major metropolitan synagogue. Last week, she discussed "A Beautiful Mind" with Beliefnet's Rebecca Phillips.

"A Beautiful Mind" depicts the life of John Nash, a talented mathematician whose paranoid schizophrenia threatens his academic career, his friendships and his marriage. The movie chronicles his struggle with his illness from graduate school days at Princeton to his triumph in 1994, when he won a Nobel Prize.

There's been some controversy about how "A Beautiful Mind" portrays John Nash, the scientist, who is a real-life professor at Princeton. If it's not a strict biography, what is the movie about?
It seems to me the movie teaches about the redemptive power of love. Whatever the true story is, in the movie, his wife stayed and supported him. She seemed to be very much a part of why he was able to conquer these very real demons that were part of his life. At the end of the movie, there's a wonderful moment of acknowledgment that made that very clear.

I think that it's through relationships like this husband and wife had that people begin to see divinity in other people, and that's a very Jewish notion. A modern Jewish philosopher like Martin Buber teaches that in a real relationship somehow you manage to experience another human being as a "thou"--not as a means to an end, but an end in and of itself. It's in those relationships that one really discovers divinity. In some ways, at least in the movie, the wife somehow manages to do that, against predictions.

At times Nash's character is pretty hard to deal with. Is everyone deserving of that kind of redemptive love?
I don't think it's a matter of being deserving. The main point in the movie is that all human beings are created in the image of God. That doesn't mean we're created in a physical image of God. God has no physical image. The issue isn't that we're perfect. But there's something about every human being that is a reflection of divinity, even with all of our differences.

Judaism has a tradition of saying blessings. The rabbis tell us we're supposed to say 100 blessings a day. There's a blessing that you say when you see someone who is very different-looking. One might say this blessing when you see someone who is very ugly, or very different-looking, or very extraordinary in a way that one might understand as negative. The blessing is, "Blessed are you God, over time and space, who varies creation."

It's a very interesting blessing because it says that every part of the universe, every human being, is an aspect of God's creation. The idea of variety, even if we might experience it individually as a bad thing, is in fact part of something much grander than we are.

So what does it mean to be created in the image of God? It means that every human being is unique. It means that we're all entitled to be treated equally, even if we're very different. We are all of absolute value, deserving to be treated as ends in ourselves.

And finally I think that we're always in the process of becoming. Because God can never be fixed. That's what idol worship is--when you say that God can be fixed. So to be created in God's image means that we are all always becoming. What we are at any moment is not necessarily the end of the story. I think the movie was really a terrific example of that.

What part of Nash was created in God's image?
In a world in which everybody has to be the same, he wasn't. He could have been put away and never been able to make a difference in the world and do the scientific work that led to the Nobel Prize or that later on led him to be a model to students.

You said that we learn about the divinity of God through our relationships with others. But it was exactly those relationships that Nash had such difficulty with. How do you think he learned to prosper in these relationships?
In the movie, the description of what he won the Nobel Prize for seemed to be a kind of game theory that suggested that the world is not a zero-sum game. I think that's an important teaching, that your winning doesn't mean my losing. So however difficult his interpersonal relationships were, however much he started from the perspective of needing to win, the movie suggests that that is not where he ended up intellectually.