A Beautiful Mind
A Beautiful Mind is a book and film about the Nobel Prize (Economics) winning mathematician John Nash and his experiences of schizophrenia. The biography, written by Sylvia Nasar, was published in 1999. The movie, inspired by biography of the same name, was released in 2001.
Table of contents
The movie's inspiration
The book A Beautiful Mind is a detailed biography of John Nash, including his work as a mathematician and his private life. The book won the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, as well as making the New York Times bestseller list. It is particularly notable for the clarity and detail; and accessibility of its treatment of Nash's mathematical accomplishments.
- Adapted Screenplay: Akiva Goldsman
- Best Picture: Brian Grazer and Ron Howard
- Directing: Ron Howard
- Supporting Actress: Jennifer Connelly
It also received four other nominations:
- Best Actor in a Leading Role: Russell Crowe
- Film Editing: Mike Hill, Daniel P. Hanley
- Best Makeup: Greg Cannom, Colleen Callaghan
- Original Music Score: James Horner
As the story unfolds, Nash is able to work through his illness to (in his words) "matter" in the world. This film is essentially a story of how a person can overcome a debilitating mental illness to attain a true sense of accomplishment, or some would say, even a sense of greatness. The film was directed by Ron Howard and starred Russell Crowe. Some have criticized the movie for oversimplifying or glossing over certain aspects of Nash's life.
At the beginning of the film, the character John Nash arrives as a new student at Princeton University. He is introduced to his roommate Charles, who would later become his best friend, as well as a group of male students who hang out together. The first part of the film establishes Nash's intellectual stamina, and just as significantly, his propensity to be too outspoken in his social life. In his own words, "I don't like them much, and they don't much like me." On a couple of occasions this group, with Nash, spends time in a bar trying to meet women, and Nash himself is unsuccessful, but the experience is what ultimately inspires his fruitful work in the concept of governing dynamics. A scene also occurs in which Charles throws Nash's desk through a window, from where it falls to a spectacular destruction on the ground. During the entire first part of the film, neither the audience nor Nash knows that his roommate and best friend, his friend's young niece and a mysterious Department of Defense agent (who will be described in the following paragraph) are each hallucinatory, part of a psychotic ailment of Nash's and are, in fact, not real.
After the conclusion of Nash's studies as a student at Princeton, a scene is presented in which he supposedly travels to a United States Department of Defense facility to crack the encryption of an enemy telecommunication. When the aforementioned Defense agent is first shown, he is standing still and quietly observing Nash from above, while partially concealed from the movie’s audience, as well as from Nash, behind a screen. His style is similar to the alleged Men in Black. Later, in an outdoor scene, the agent encourages Nash to look for patterns in magazines and newspapers, ostensibly to thwart a Soviet plot. Consequently, Nash begins to have increasingly paranoid delusions that lead him to behave erratically.
After observing this erratic behavior, one of his coworkers follows him during one of Nash's late night "drops" of "top secret Soviet codes" that he had cracked. His coworker sees Nash place the documents into a drop-box at a long empty building, and reports this behaviour to Nash's superiors. After being forcibly sedated and sent to a psychiatric facility, Nash is then confronted with the truth of his schizophrenia. Initially this internment feeds his paranoia that the Soviets were trying to extract information from him, but his wife is able to show him the unopened "top secret" documents, which convinces him that he has been hallucinating. Therefore, the defense agent is imaginary just like the others are.
Nash is released on the condition of agreeing to take antipsychotic medication. However, these drugs create terrible side-effects on his personality, his relationship with his wife and, most dramatically, his intellect. Frustrated, Nash ceases his medication, triggering a relapse of his psychosis. Unaware, his wife permits Nash to give their infant son a bath. She discovers the truth just in time to save the child from being drowned. Nash claims that his (hallucinatory) friend was watching the child. John's apparitions then confront him and urge him to kill his wife. Nash finally realizes these people are not "real" when he observes that the little girl never grows older. He then fully accepts that all three of them are, in fact, part of his psychosis.
Caught between having to choose the intellectual paralysis of the antipsychotic drugs or the haunting of his apparitions, Nash and his wife decide to try to live with his schizophrenia. Nash begins to try to ignore his hallucinations and therefore not feed "his demons". The rest of the movie depicts Nash growing older while working on his studies in the library of Princeton University. He still suffers hallucinations and periodically has to check if new people he meets are real, but ultimately he develops the ability to live with and largely ignore his psychosis. Eventually, Nash begins to teach at the university and is honored by his fellow professors for his lifetime achievement. Nash goes on to be awarded Nobel Prize for Economics for his revolutionary work on game theory.
Fictionalized nature of film
The movie should not be regarded as a biography of Nash, nor as a film version of Nasar's book. It is a drama inspired by the life of John Nash, a roman à clef for which no clef is required.
- I was reasonably absurd in my approach. I don't know how to write a bio-pic and this was one of the best researched scholarly biographies I'd ever read. Instead I wanted to use my understanding of what I'd read with additional research to evoke the grander beats of John's life. I didn't want it to be literal. I wanted to take stab at the truth of John's life, but not by way of the facts.
Goldsman brought to the script his life experience as the son of child psychologist Mira Rothenberg, who maintained a group home for emotionally disturbed children in the family's residence. Goldsman said that his goal was "to use [the story of John Nash's] journey to give some insight into what it might feel like to suffer from this disease." It can be inferred that Goldsman's priority was conveying the truth of the inner experience of schizophrenia, rather than the documenting the factual data of John Nash's life.
Critics argue that the movie glosses over his alleged homosexual relationships, his anti-semitic statements, his abandoning a woman shortly after fathering a child with her, and that it rewrites his actual psychotic experience (eg. being "attacked by Napoleon" or being "the left foot of God") into a more exciting but fictional account. The producers of the film argue that the claims of Nash's relationships with men are unverified and that Nash himself continues to deny that he is homosexual. The producers claim that they omitted the anti-semitic remarks because they did not serve the story. Nash himself has argued that although he did make these comments, he was extremely mentally ill at the time.
Many of the specific incidents and life events depicted in the movie do not correspond to anything mentioned in Nasar's biography. "There are many discrepancies between the book and the film," says a Nash FAQ on the Princeton website . For example, the pen ceremony "was completely fabricated in Hollywood. No such custom exists." The scene in which Nash thanks his wife Alicia during his Nobel prize acceptance speech is fictitious; Nobel prize winners do not give acceptance speeches, and Nash was not invited to give the traditional Nobel lecture due to concerns about his illness.
The scene in which Nash demonstrates to his girlfriend his ability to find any specified pattern in a starry sky does not correspond to anything in the book; nor does the scene in which Nash's infant son almost drowns because he believes that his hallucinatory colleague Charles is taking care of him; nor Nash having delusions of a password-generating device being implanted in his arm; nor the scene in which Nash realizes that Marcee must be imaginary because she has not aged, or the heartrending scene in which he bids farewell to her.
- John Forbes Nash
- Sylvia Nasar
- Cinderella Man, a 2005 movie whose creative team included many people who worked on A Beautiful Mind, to which it bears striking stylistic resemblances.
External links and references
- Entry in "Movie Glimpse", An
- Home Page of John F. Nash, Jr.
- A Beautiful Mind at the Internet Movie Database
- Nasar, S. (1999) A Beautiful Mind: The Life of Mathematical Genius and Nobel Laureate John Nash. Simon and Schuster Inc. ISBN 0743224574
- Page on the web site of Crazy for Cinema, A
- Sylvia Nasar Discusses Her Book, 'A Beautiful Mind;' Psychiatrist Roberto Gil: Schizophrenia and Recovery
- FAQ John Nash Princeton library site. Pen ceremony and Nobel acceptance speech fictitious.
- Maths illustrated Interesting details on math consultant Dave Bayer's contribution to film, including his cameo appearance in the pen ceremony scene.
- Beautiful Math Dave Bayer 77 writes Hollywoods Equations.