A Beautiful Mind

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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 the biography of the same name, was released in 2001.

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.

The film

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The film version of A Beautiful Mind was created by Universal Pictures and DreamWorks. In 2001, the film was awarded four Oscars for:

It also received four other nominations:

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.

Plot summary

Template:Spoiler At the beginning of the film, the character John Nash arrives as a new student at Princeton University for graduate studies in mathematics, having won the prestigious Carnegie Prize for mathematics with his brilliance. He meets his roommate Charles (a literature student), who would later become his best friend, as well as a group of male students who hang out together, including the promising mathematicians Martin Hansen, "Sol", and Bender (an atomic physics student), who describe Nash as the "West Virginia genius" after first meeting him. 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, being better with the "old integers" than with people. 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 theory in mathematical economics. 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, he accepts a prestigious appointment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), along with his friends "Sol" and Bender. It is while at this post that he meets Alicia who he will soon marry, as she is a student of his, although he has little time and interest for his teaching responsibilities (focusing more on his research). At one point important in displaying the nature of John Nash, "Sol" and Bender inquire into Nash's obssession for becoming the greatest mathematician, stating "What is the difference between genius and most genius?" A scene is presented in which he supposedly travels to a United States Department of Defense facility (The Pentagon) to crack a complex encryption of an enemy telecommunication - the scene further reveals Nash's mathematical genius as he is the only one to successfully and independently (without the aid of of a computer or prior analyses) decipher the code mentally after several failed attempts by lesser mathematicians. 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 colleagues, "Sol", follows him during one of Nash's late night "drops" of "top secret Soviet codes" that he had cracked. "Sol" 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 (with permission from his one-time friend Martin Hansen who is then the head of the Princeton Mathematics Department) 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.

Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman stated in an interview [1]:

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.

The movie also misrepresents the effect Nash's mental illness had on his work. The movie depicts Nash as already suffering from schizophrenia when he wrote his doctoral thesis. In reality, Nash's schizophrenia did not appear until years later and once it did his mathematical work ceased until he was able to bring it under control.

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 [2]. 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 plot of the movie makes much of Alicia Nash's unwavering devotion to her husband. In reality, the Nashs divorced in 1963 and lived apart for several years. In 1970, Alicia allowed John to live in her house but it was not a romantic relationship. It was not until the 1990s, when John was recovering from his mental illness, that their romantic relationship was revived and the couple remarried in 2001.

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.

See also

  • 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

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