A Beautiful Mind is about the life of John Nash, the mathematical genius, a legend by the age of thirty when he slipped into schizophrenia, and who – thanks to the selfless devotion of his wife and the continuing patronage of mathematics community- emerged after a crazy life to win a Nobel Prize in 1994 and world acclaim. The movie, is based on the book which is in a biographical style which has won the praise of hundreds, is already a winner of several prestigious awards amongst which that stand out are National Books Critical Circle for Biography and Pulitzer Prize in Biography. Now, the book is a major Motion Picture that has already bagged the Oscar for this year.
The movie is about the life story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. – a mathematical genius and inventor of a theory of rational behavior for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1994. The book is written in a biographical style in five parts, beginning with a Prologue. The part one is on A Beautiful Mind, Part two on Separate Lives, Part three on A Slow Fire Burning, Part four on The Lost Years, and the Part five on The Most Worthy, followed by Epilogue, Notes, Select Bibliography, Acknowledgements, and Index, The latter features not only provide an appropriate support to then aeration but also makes it a referenced biographical sketch. As Sylvia Nasser, the brilliant author of the book concludes the Prologue; she ends by saying that “This is the story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. It is a story about the mystery of the human mind, in three acts, genius, madness, reawakening.” The author excels not only in narration style but also in her capability in making the style absorbing – engrossing the reader entirely in the richness of the story’s presentation. The Prologue starts the unfolding of the story by presenting rich information about John Forbes Nash, Jr., as other celebrities knew him – the several facets of his personality, especially those that were leading him into his madness. Presenting a characterization of schizophrenia, author helps in informing the reader about the circumstances under which a spontaneous recovery from this dementing and degenerative disease believed to be so rare, became a possibility for John Nash. In Epilogue, the author narrates such events in John Nash’s life, which validates his recovery from this madness. It also raises a question for the Psychiatrists and the Clinical Psychologists that given a personality like that of John Forbes Nash, Jr., what is the probability of recovery from the schizophrenic madness for another individual?
The Beautiful Mind.
The director has given the movie the title of A Beautiful Mind. There must have been very strong reasons to do so and are surely in reference to the richness of behavior that John Forbes Nash Jr. showed during the entire span of his life – from genius to being a schizophrenic and to re-awakening. The author’s narration of his behavior stands out to demonstrate this aspect of his life. For example:
“His contemporaries, on the whole, found him immensely strange.” They found him as “aloof,” “haughty,” “without affect,” “detached,” “spooky,” “isolated,” and “queer,” Nash mingled rather than mixed with his peers. Pre-occupied with his own private reality, he seemed not to share their mundane concerns. His manners – slightly cold, a bit superior, somewhat secretive – suggested something “mysterious and unnatural”. His remoteness was punctuated by flights of garrulousness about outer space and geo-political trends, childish pranks, and unpredictable eruption of anger. But these outbursts were, more often than not, as enigmatic as his silences. â€¦ “
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“By his late twenties, Nash’s insights and discoveries had won him recognition, respect, and autonomy. He had carved a brilliant career at the apex of the mathematics profession, traveled, lectured, taught, met the most famous mathematicians of his day, and become famous himself. â€¦”
“Nash proved a tragic exception. Underneath the brilliant surface of his life, all was chaos and contradiction: his involvements with other men; a secret mistress and a neglected illegitimate son; and a haunting fear of failure, â€¦”
“While Nash the man frozen in a dreamlike state, a phantom who haunted Princeton in the 1970s and 80s, scribbling on the blackboards and studying religious texts, his name began to surface everywhere- in economics textbooks, articles on evolutionary biology, political science treatises, mathematics journals. â€¦”
“At seventy three John looks and sounds wonderfully well. He feels increasingly certain that he won’t suffer a relapse. “It is like a continuous process rather than just waking up from a dream, he told a New York Times reporter recently. â€¦”
This is just a sampling of his behavior depicting diversity of different orders as he treaded his life path. The movie has numerous examples of this diversity, spread over all the way until the last. It is this large behavior variance that perhaps motivated the director to decide to give the film the title of A Beautiful Mind.
As a psychology student who has spent thousands of hours talking about mentally ill people, I was eager to see “A Beautiful Mind”. I wanted to see if this would be the very first movie ever to portray people with schizophrenic illness in a sympathetic light, to avoid the usual stereotypes such as “really scary psychotic killer” or “impossibly weird bag person”
As portrayed in “A Beautiful Mind”, John Nash is one scary dude. From the scene where he almost lets his infant son drown because he is convinced that his delusional friend Charles is watching the infant while Nash is elsewhere, to the one in which he very nearly assaults his wife in response to a voice telling him she is out to get him, the film portrays Nash as a man who at any moment can cross over the line to where his delusional ideas create real tragedies.
But putting aside my own agenda, I would have to say that the movie has unusual strengths, thanks to masterful performances by Russell Crowe as John Nash, and by Jennifer Connelly as his wife Alicia.
Crowe gives a subtle and beautiful performance, and he very nearly pulls it off. Certainly he is good enough in the role that I never once thought “gladiator”. His John Nash characterization has many sides – the painfully uncomfortable boy-man at Princeton, the sardonic humorist, the deservedly arrogant professional mathematician, the scared, pitiful recipient of the full onslaught of psychotically imagined auditory hallucinations – and these characterizations almost work. But the young Nash, although a standout eccentric in his early graduate studies, is not really weird enough to portray the estrangement that must have been his lot as, in the midst of intense creative efforts, he was already struggling with a delusional system he could not always distinguish from reality. And even in the throes of his worst psychotic nightmares, when he lashes out at the doctor who comes to intervene on his behalf, he is too contained. But what Crowe does get right in the performance is a lot. Somehow he has managed to learn the peculiar and highly idiosyncratic posture and gait that many people with schizophrenia display and which is unmistakable to the trained eye. Particularly nice, I thought, was how Crowe’s Nash could recover from lethal social gaffes with quick wit and charm, as for example during his visit back at Princeton where he is asking the new department chairman (and his old nemesis from graduate school) if he might return to the campus to teach. In the midst of their conversation, Nash is convulsed by his delusion, and lashes out at an imagined presence. He then turns to the startled chairman and asks, “Is there any way that you could forget what I just did?”
As Alicia, Jennifer Connelly gives a moving performance as Nash’s once and future wife. Falling in love with a man who can find everything in the starry heavens, and who knows the universe is infinite, she is quickly disillusioned as he succumbs to an illness which was even more of a curse in 1954 than it is today. She withstands seeing her husband subjected to dozens of gruesome insulin shock “treatments” and later, when he is home from the hospital, has to contend with his withdrawal, lack of affection, and creative stupor, partially side effects of the drug Thorazine, which was the only useful treatment way back then. When Nash recognizes the drug’s deleterious effects on himself and stops the medication, he is quickly thrust back into the terror. Nevertheless, in the movie at least, she stands by her man. She comforts him when she can, and confronts him when she must, and gradually he begins to come out of the illness. Some may feel that the relationship of John and Alicia was the smaltziest part of this movie, the least isomorphic mapping from any of John Nash’s real biography to the world of the silver screen. But to me it was the most real, because I have seen how important such a relationship is to a person struggling to emerge from mental illness. Next to the medication, it counts for everything.
I saw this movie with the my friend who is working at the mental health center.. We spent a long time afterwards talking about it. She said something I thought was particularly true. She said, “What Ron Howard has done is to give us a movie not about a “schizophrenic”, as if the term “schizophrenic” defined the person, but about a person who happens to have the illness schizophrenia.”
Maybe people are ready to understand that, in the words of the iconoclastic hero of American psychiatry Harry Stack Sullivan, “People with schizophrenia are much more human than otherwise.” I’ve had some acquaintance on a personal level with friends and family who’ve experienced mental illness — both bi-polar illness (usually called mania or manic-depressive illness) and schizophrenia. After first seeing the movie and then reading Sylvia Nasar’s book, I have very mixed emotions about both. The main “true” thing which comes through in either version — is that schizophrenics do sometimes recover, or experience long periods of “remission” as the book describes it. Central to this, many times, is the support of family and recognition of professional colleagues. In Nash’s case, many many colleagues were exceptionally tolerant and caring — something more underscored in the book. The movie makes Nash’s wife the main hero, plain and simple, in his recovery. The books paints a much more varied and full-bodied story of life with his wife, his mistress, his sons (one by his wife, one by his mistress) — and of his homosexual liaisons which were also key to his life-long journey towards becoming nicer or more human and humane. The book contains a wealth of detail — much of it about Nash’s contemporaries rather than about his own life; I’d say you get about one-third Nash, two-thirds Nash’s acquaintances and company. It’s impossible to write a biography, of course, without giving background details. But Nasar had great difficulty making both Nash’s personality and his so-called “Beautiful Mind” comprehensible or appealing. A lot of what he did and thought was more ugly than beautiful. A different title would have helped greatly, I think. Anyway, Nasar’s way of coping with writing about Nash himself was to take refuge in describing those around him who were less successful but easier to describe, or who were more extreme in personality or who achieved greater acclaim before he did. She wants to show that he, to some extent, ranks with the greatest thinkers of any time — people like Nicola Tesla, Einstein, Pascal. This may be true, and when she showed how Nash sought to approach the really knotty problems, especially those considered important by many people — it works. But Nasar is terrible at explaining math in its particulars or in general. She does little better with the relationship between math and applied-math fields which so often involved Nash directly or ended up being important to the application of what he’d originated as so-called pure mathematics. I was ready to forgive the movie for this — and while it gives only a suggestion of the math involved, at least it does this well, even exceptionally — but not the book. There are close to one-hundred pages of notes at the end of Nasar’s books — and seeking those sources is the only hope for those intrigued by Nash’s accomplishments or areas of research. The best “story” of the book, the only part well-narrated, comes near the end, and involves the Noble Prize and the fight between the Noble committee members over choosing Nash. It’s a great story. In the book, after it becomes clear Nash has shown signs of recovering from schizophrenia, a slow and steady progression over ten or twenty years — Nasar raises the question of whether Nash might have been misdiagnosed as schizophrenic. No one recovers from schizophrenia, especially without drugs — that’s what people used to think, many still do — and both book and movie mention this belief. Manic-depression, however, is known to often be well-controlled with medications. I’ve had indirect contact with manic-depressives and relatives of them, much more so than with schizophrenics — to me there’s no question that Nash was not a manic-depressive. On the other hand, from all indications, Nash was someone who suffered, at times severely, from schizophrenia, with paranoid delusions. The paranoid element of his illness may be to some degree realistically and imaginatively treated in the movie. Where the movie strays very far from the truth, in a sort of Disney way, is in the creation of his imaginary college roommate and then later with the roommate’s cute little daughter who never ages. Nash never had any hallucinations or delusions of that sort; he imagined aliens were communicating with him, and felt he’d gained knowledge which would help world leaders, presidents and premiers, and even sought to communicate with the Pope. He did clip headlines from newspapers and magazines, as the movie depicts — in connection with this paranoid-delusional obsession. The character of the roommate is well-acted, however; I personally felt it was an excellent performance. But, be that as it may, especially with the addition of the roommate’eone with schizophrenia — I had a feeling schizophrenics and their families would find those sequences of the film offensive or simply ridiculously untrue to life.. the movie departs in some large ways from the real events of Nash’s life, and blunders badly with the phantom roommate element — it’s still a great film. Great movies and great books often do have blunders, sometimes serious ones, or weak sections. In this case, I think the movie especially can be forgiven its faults and distortions because of the challenge of portraying such difficult subjects. By that I mean not only Nash himself, as a personality, but more broadly the topics of advanced mathematics and schizophrenia. Secondly, it does have its heart in the right place — the patient and loving care of family and friends can play a major role in helping mentally-ill people (not to exclude the role of doctors and medical treatments). Finally, I think it’s an extraordinary performance by Russell Crowe. He’s better in “The Insider” — but from the all-too-little of what Nash was really like in speech and in personal mannerisms which does at times come through in Nasar’s book — Crowe’s portrayal has elements of genius. Certainly the scriptwriter deserves recognition, here, too — since the book provides mainly the film’s title and little in the way of dialog or coherent narrative thrust. .
This has got to be one of the best films I have ever seen! I was never a big Russell Crowe fan to begin with, but this film has made me into a convert. Hats off to Ron Howard for doing such a superb job! This movie has made such an impression on me and even after watching it, I cannot help but think about it and am highly recommending it to all my friends