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Updated on May 1, 2011

     The movie, “A Beautiful Mind”, tells the story of Nobel Prize winner John Nash’s struggle with schizophrenia. It follows his journey from the point where he is not even aware he has schizophrenia to the point where Nash and his wife find a way to manage his condition. The paper shows that the movie provides a lot of information and insight into the psychological condition of schizophrenia, including information on the symptoms, the treatment and cures, the life for the individual, and for the individual’s family. The movie presents its effectiveness at demonstrating various concepts related to schizophrenia and provides a fascinating insight into the disease of schizophrenia. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the mental disorder Schizophrenia and the ways in which John Forbes Nash the main character in the movie A Beautiful Mind dealt with it. I will also define the mental disorder; discuss the symptoms, the causes, the treatments, the relationship between violence and individuals who are diagnosed with Schizophrenia, the general public’s reaction towards people with Schizophrenia, and the ways in which people with Schizophrenia can help the general public and themselves in coping with this particular mental disorder and possibly other mental disorders.

The Beautiful Mind

     A Beautiful Mind is an inspiring story about triumph over schizophrenia, among the most devastating and disabling of all mental disorders. A Beautiful Mind succeeds in realistically describing the disturbed thinking, emotion, perception, and behavior that characterizes the disorder, and shows the difficult task of management of and/or recovery from the disorder. The movie communicates the vital importance of the factors that contributed to Nash’s recovery and achievement of his amazing potential as a gifted intellectual. For instance, Nash was treated with dignity and respect by most of his academic peers. Social support and tolerance enabled him to regain his capacity for productive work that led to his receipt of the Nobel Prize for economics in 1994. His employer, PrincetonUniversity, went a long way to accommodate him and find a place for him in the academic community. Nash also benefited from the love and faith exhibited by his wife, Alicia. A Beautiful Mind credits the love and faith of Nash’s wife, Alicia, as a significant factor in his recovery. (Akiva Goldsman, Ron Howard, 2002)

     The movie is loosely based on the book of the same name and tells the story of John Forbes Nash Jr. At the beginning of the film, the character John Nash arrives as a new student at PrincetonUniversity. He is introduced to his imaginary 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 shows Nash’s intellectual concepts and his social deficiencies. In college Nash begins to work on the concept of governing dynamics. During the entire first part of the film, Nash does not know that his roommate and best friend, his friend’s young niece and a mysterious Department of Defense agent are all hallucinations and are part of a psychotic ailment known as schizophrenia. (Abram Hoffer, 2002)

School and Career

     The selection of critically acclaimed actor Russell Crowe to portray the mathematics genius must seem far fetched given Crowe’s reputation as one of ‘People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People,’ but this is perhaps the most accurate detail in the movie. While studying at Princeton, one of Nash’s fellow students remarked that he was “handsome as a god.” Nash did not seek isolation as implied in the film, but rather “Nash was very interested that everyone would recognize how smart he was, not because he needed this admiration, but anyone who didn’t recognize it wasn’t on top of things.” Also, Nash was not the victim of bullying by his peers but was the bully himself who would mock his fellow students calling them ‘hackers.’ He was beyond confident; he actually met with Albert Einstein to discuss his own theories in physics. The movie makes it a specific point to highlight that Nash never attended a class, but the biography is clear that he avoided classes but would sit in from time to time. Nash did not simply think classes were a waste of his time. He felt they were counter-productive because they would cause him to think like others had thought. (John Jaques, 2002)

     As the movie starts, it depicts Nash played by Crowe sitting patiently. It in no way qualifies in the opening that the middle age Crowe is actually playing a 21 year-old. The movie quickly introduces Nash supposed roommate who is later revealed to be figment of his crazed mind. However, Nash knew he did not have a roommate because one of the benefits of his scholarship at Princeton was a private room, a point given his ego he would not have kept secret. There is also the small matter that Nash never suffered a mental illness until years after his Princeton school days. (Sylvia Nasar, 2001)

     The movie depicts one particular scene when Nash is playing a simple game with black and white stones with a fellow student where he loses the game despite moving first. The movie is correct in depicting Nash as a gambler, but the scene is littered with omissions and contradictions. The movie fails to mention that Nash actually invented the game. The game, which was also developed by Piet Hein was produced by Parker Brothers and is called Hex. The movie asserts that Nash lost despite having the first move. However, Nash was renowned for seldom losing any games of Hex, but in particular he proved he could not lose if he had the first move. These games at Princeton were not played outside but rather in the common room (which was never actually shown in the movie despite his written biography claiming that Nash spent the majority of his time there).

     The movie makes a tragic mistake in depicting Nash as receiving instant recognition for his new theory of non-cooperative games. It took decades for the full implications of his idea to be realized. This is particularly significant because one of the causes of Nash’s decline into insanity was his desire to be recognized and make a significant contribution. The theory was recognized at the time but it was not acknowledged to the degree it is today. (John Nash, Harold William Kuhn, 2007)

     As Nash moves on from Princeton having completed his six-page dissertation containing the Nash Equilibrium, Nash assumed a position at MIT. Once again the movie fails to mention that Nash was not only the youngest professor at MIT but also younger than most of the graduate students. He had the nickname “Kid Professor.” To say he was a quirky professor would be a gross understatement. Nash would make elaborate wagers with his students so that regardless of the outcome, he would win. Once, when he gave a test the first question was write out your name. If a student merely wrote their name on the answer book but not as a separate answer, they lost 25 points. On another occasion students in his class declared one day to be “Hate John Nash Day”. However, this is only part of the story because Nash was willing to spend hours talking to any student about mathematics. The movie fails to depict this extreme quirkiness of Nash.

     During his time at MIT, Nash made a significant mathematical accomplishment that went unmentioned in the movie. Nash solved the embedding problems of manifolds. Nash did this not because he was motivated by career ambitions, or even an intrinsic desire to further knowledge. Instead, he wanted to win a bet. Nash had been tormenting a fellow professor for years at MIT when the bet was made. Nash tormented him by sending roses to the professor following the professor’s public speeches, he would sit at the back of the classroom yelling hacker as the professor taught, and he would offer special classes for graduate students when his competitor’s class on graduate analysis was going on. However, Nash’s achievement, regardless of motivation, is more monumental than a simple mathematical proof because it presented a wholly new approach to solving problems. (John Jaques, 2002)

     Nash’s career at this stage was moving rapidly towards its pinnacle—the Field’s Medal. The Field’s Medal is the Nobel Prize of mathematics that is awarded every 4 years. To add to the prestige of the award, by strict tradition the award is only given to those under the age of forty. In 1958, Nash narrowly missed the award in part due to politics but also because Nash would still be eligible four years later. Not to be totally defeated, Nash drove instantly for the second best prize in mathematics—the Bocher. However, this is basically where Nash’s career ended. (Maddalena Bearzi, Craig B. Stanford, 2008)

     At age thirty, Nash was near the top of his field. Despite being quirky, his work was read and published in top journals, but age thirty is a bright line for mathematicians. In mathematics, most great discoveries are made before reaching thirty. It seems odd that professional basketball players can play into their forties despite the wear and tear on their bodies but mathematicians who use only their minds are considered past their peak at age thirty. Nash was making an attempt at the Holy Grail of Mathematics— the Riemann Hypothesis. The stress of the situation was magnified by the entrance of a younger ambitious mathematician who rivalled Nash’s ability. Unfortunately, Nash was unable to solve the Riemann Hypothesis problem before the pressure of turning of thirty. Facing a younger rival and trying to solve the unsolvable caused his quirky tendency to decline into totally insanity.

            After the conclusion of Nash’s studies as a student at Princeton, the agent encourages Nash to look for patterns in magazines and newspapers, accordingly to stop a Soviet plot. Consequently, Nash begins to have increasingly paranoid delusions that lead him to behave erratically. A fellow co-worker of Nash reports his behavior to the authorities; as a result he is forcibly sedated him is sent to a psychiatric facility. Nash is then confronted with the truth of his schizophrenia. Initially this situation 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.

            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 his intellect. Nash stops taking his medication, triggering a relapse of his schizophrenia. After a dangerous situation occurs between his wife and child Nash finally realizes these people are not “real” and he has been imaging them the whole time. 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 disease, Nash and his wife decide to try to live with his schizophrenia. Nash begins to try to ignore his hallucinations and therefore not feed the thoughts.

            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 mental problems. 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 work on game theory. (IMDB)

Psychological Concept

     Nash suffered from the mental illness, known as Schizophrenia, almost all his life. Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness and is one of the most serious of the chronic, persistent mental illnesses. It affects one percent of the world’s population, and strikes people of every race, every economic group and is found in a whole range of mental abilities.  People with this illness have disturbed and disorganized thinking, language, and behavior. They may see, hear, or feel things that aren’t really there.

            The term schizophrenia means “split mind.” Those who have it seem to have normal mental function in some areas but are very disturbed in others. For example, a person may talk in bizarre ways but be able to do math, such as Nash and his abilities. The symptoms of schizophrenia include constant, complex and compelling delusions. Some delusions are extravagant and seem very realistic. Sometimes they are persecutory and the person believes that others are plotting against him. Some delusions are referential, as in John Nash’s case where he believed that newspaper passages were sending him secret messages, that certain numbers held mystical meanings.  Schizophrenia brings hyper awareness, sensory excess, and a strange wakefulness; it creates a false perception on life. People with schizophrenia tend to withdraw and to lack motivation and energy, which are called negative symptoms of the illness. Disruptive behavior, hearing voices, and having delusional thoughts are positive symptoms.

            Often the affected person hears berating, terrifying voices. They may order the person to commit violence or feel guilt. The voices are a constant frightening conversation of sound interfering with outside reality. Visual hallucinations also may occur; people’s faces can shift and change and frightening and bizarre visions are seen. At times, the world appears to be a dangerous and threatening place that is out of the control of the affected person. Many people with the illness become so afraid to venture outside that they are prisoners in their homes. Others wander the streets shouting their delusions out loud. Many homeless people suffer from schizophrenia, due to their condition and amount of stress.

            Schizophrenia is a biologically based illness. It is not caused by bad parenting, stressful situations or lack of will power. However, stress may trigger an attack in a genetically pre-disposed person. Some scientists believe that something might happen before birth, such as a viral infection in the womb that causes schizophrenia decades later. Special scans, such as PET (positron-emission tomography) and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), have been used to look at the brains of people with this illness. Lab studies have shown that nerve cells in some parts of the brains of schizophrenics may be misaligned or damaged.
     The most compelling statement about John Nash’s psychotic break with reality can be found on the first page of Nasar’s biography. He is visited at McLean Hospital by a Harvard mathematics professor who asks, “…how could you, a mathematician, a man devoted to reason and logical could you believe that you are being recruited by aliens from outer space to save the world?” Nash supposedly gave this reply: “Because…the ideas I had about supernatural beings came to me the same way that my mathematical ideas did. So I took them seriously.” (Katherine Orr, 2005)

     My own guess is that if Nash gave this striking answer he was not being entirely truthful. Like many of the best mathematicians Nash had an unusual inwardness which goes along with the ability to sustain concentration at the highest level. But other mathematicians agree that Nash also had a kind of unique intuition in his approach to solving problems. So perhaps that intuitive sense is what he meant when he said that the ideas came in the “same way.” The film tries to convey this “same way” by presenting images of Nash perceiving patterns. But what first troubled Nash was much more typical of patients who develop schizophrenia: he had “ideas of reference” (Katherine Orr, 2005). As Nash developed schizophrenia, he noticed men wearing red ties; he began to believe that red had a special significance, and that the significance had particular reference to him: the patterns located him at the center of a new reality.

     So, too, the real Nash would notice words and phrases in The New York Times and put them together in ways that proved to him “supernatural beings” were placing those messages in the newspaper for him. And although his biography is far from clear about the sequence, he has revealed, if only in retrospect, that he was hearing voices. These are all common early symptoms of the onset of schizophrenia. Nash seems to have become psychotic in a very typical way: his brain began to play games with his mind. It is virtually impossible not to trust your own mind and brain; that is why the basic problem of serious mental disorder is that the patient has no “insight.” Nash could not disbelieve his own mind, not even a genius can do that.

     The drama of the self in Nash’s case apparently began with grandiosity at a time when he was struggling to gain tenure in the MIT mathematics department, his wife was pregnant, and he was already thirty—old for an ambitious mathematician. In the midst of all these personal stresses, aliens were calling on him to save the world. He refused the offer of a prestigious professorship at the University of Chicago, stating in his letter that he was about to become the “Emperor of Antarctica.” He was the “left Foot of God on Earth.” (Katherine Orr, 2005)

     The important question of “how do we treat this disorder?” has been answered as early as the 1950’s when the first form of medication came out, although meeting with some side effects. Antipsychotic drugs, like virtually all medications, have unwanted side effects. As in the movie when Nash received the medicine, he did function with the same intellectual awareness. Different patients have different treatment responses and side effects to various antipsychotic drugs. A patient may do better with one drug than another. However, where one person could be aided by a specific drug, the same drug may not work on someone else who has the same symptoms. This is why treating schizophrenia has met with such problems. Whereas the older drugs reduced dopamine by completely blocking receptors on mesolimbic cells, this blocking led to impaired movement and awareness, the new drugs bind less strongly to the receptors, blocking just enough dopamine to ease symptoms in the mesolimbic pathway without causing shortages elsewhere.

            Schizophrenia changes the way one relates to others and the way they think about everyday activities. Therefore, sick patients will probably need a therapist or case manager to help manage their daily needs. They may live in a group setting with others who also have this illness. It may be necessary to spend some time in a hospital if they are thinking about hurting themselves or someone else. (Alan A. Stone, 2002)

     The movie A Beautiful Mind creates an opportunity to see the effect of mental illnesses and how it can be overcome. The movie shows first hand the problems schizophrenia may cause, such as John seeing fictional characters such as the agent and his long time friend Charles. Its most effective element is the showing and realism of the delusions of John Nash’s mind; they are so real that it’s to the point where the viewer cannot know what hallucination is and what reality is. This is the closest any healthy person can come to understanding the misunderstanding and panic that come when the mind is out of control. Sanity and safety and all the basics we depend upon and for John they are suddenly gone. The saddest thing about John’s story is that people we love become strangers. He longer could trust his wife because she couldn’t relate to his problems. For the first time we get an understanding of the amazing courage people with mental illness need to face these terrors every day and what a struggle it is for them simply to survive.

     Finally, the movie does not leave us without hope. John Nash was able to live through the years of his sickness, and in an almost unbelievable way come out on the other side. Not all people with mental illnesses are fortunate to have such recoveries. This is why it would have been a little more interesting seeing his progression as he gets older.  Slowly over a period of years his delusions lessened. It is very hard for most patients to overcome this sickness without the proper medicine but it is possible. He now lives a quiet life with his wife Alicia in Cambridge, N.J. They are concerned with caring for their only son, Johnny, who also was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I thought that this was interesting due to the fact that schizophrenia is not known for being passed on by the parents. Due to the fact that this movie was based on a true story, I believe it was a good perception of the sickness known as schizophrenia. It was a very eerie feeling not knowing if something was real or fake. That is what John and other sufferers go through with their whole life.

     In this movie, there are many scenes that depict this disorder. It shows John first suffering when he is at Princeton and has a very difficult social life. Later, at MIT, his hallucinations begin and drive him to become paranoid and delusional. He experiences hallucinations again after stopping his medication. He wanders around the house while he was supposed to be watching his son in the bathtub, and the boy almost drowns. He also believes that people are telling him to kill his wife. According to the information I have read about schizophrenia, I believe this film does a good job of accurately portraying the disorder. It includes behaviors associated with the disorder, as well as treatments and side effects from the medication.  (Maddalena Bearzi, Craig B. Stanford, 2008)

     In the movie Nash is constantly suffering from paranoia due to his schizophrenia. He believes that he is being watched by the Soviets who after his brilliant mind. Even though these beliefs are false he can’t shake the feeling of being watched or followed. His paranoia leads to him acting as if he is always on edge and constantly concerned with the situation.

            He can’t function normally and concentrate on the important matters such as his family and work. He is fixated with his paranoia and the images created by schizophrenia. The movie does show a truthful perception of the illness known as paranoia. The power of his paranoia almost ruined his life and it was clearly displayed in the movie. Paranoia can affect all kinds of people and Nash was no exception. It usually occurs more with people who have a reason to be suspicious of others. Nash’s theories were very important and this may have caused him to mistrust others and create a false perception. Overall I thought the movie gave an accurate description of the movie.

     The movie was quite accurate in its depiction of Alicia Larde, portrayed by Jennifer Connolly, as a woman who desired Nash and pursued him. In a letter to a friend, Alicia referred to Nash as a “genius with a penis” referring both to Nash’s great intellect and looks. Nash had an especially endearing nickname he called her before they began dating: “leech”. Nash eventually began sleeping with her while also sleeping with Eleanor and while having a “special friendship” with one of his male colleague at MIT. Nash lost his father shortly thereafter and decided to make a life change, so he investigated how easy it was to get a divorce. Although he was not yet married, he did not want to get married until he knew how difficult it would be to get out of. Nash and Alicia were married the following February with none of Nash’s colleagues present, and his best man was Charlie, his new brother-in-law. As an interesting side-note, the movie’s first imaginary character is also named Charlie but nowhere in the biography is Nash ever referred to as having an ongoing hallucination named Charlie.

     Nash’s personal life reached a high when his wife announced she was pregnant with the couple’s first child. The child was born and of course named John Nash. The couple eventually broke it off as a result of Nash’s insanity only to remain lifelong friends and lover. They did remarry many decades later. It is somehow poetically perfect the Walt Disney Company produced a Beautiful Mind because the story in the movie appears to be right from a Disney fairy tale. The true story is more sorted and tragic. Nash was a likeable man but was also a perverse man who committed adultery, slept with his student and allegedly had many secret male lovers. This does not make him a ‘bad’ man, but it does make his life inappropriate for a Disney film.

     A Beautiful Mind gave a very descriptive and intellectual view on the affects of a mental illness. Through examples and situations it helped show circumstances that people must suffer with if they have schizophrenia or paranoia. A sense of hope was shown because Nash overcame his illness and with help many others can attain this outcome. A Beautiful Mind gave a better understanding of the struggle between reality and a world created by illness of the mind, even a brilliant mind like Nash’s.  

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      5 years ago

      This article is wrong! We don't know whether schizophrenia is actually completely biological and it is not a 'split personality disorder' that term refers to dis associative identity disorder.


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