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Film / A Beautiful Mind

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A Beautiful Mind is a 2001 American film based on the life of John Forbes Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics. The film was directed by Ron Howard and written by Akiva Goldsman. It was inspired by a bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-nominated 1998 book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar. The film stars Russell Crowe as Nash, along with Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris and Paul Bettany.

The story begins in the early years of Nash's life at Princeton University as he develops his "original idea" that will revolutionize the world of mathematics.

This movie contains examples of:

  • An Aesop: There's a very small one in that director Ron Howard didn't want the audience to leave with the belief that you can just gut your way through mental illness, so he included a line in Nash's acceptance speech about "newer medications", where the real Nash never did resume medication and his life suffered for it. There is truth in this, as continued exploration has discovered medications that don't have side effects as severe as some early ones (especially those designed more to shut the patient down than to help them function in the world).
  • Answer Cut: Sol tries to convince John to continue taking his medication, telling him there's other things besides work. John asks what. Camera cuts to a pacifier lying on a table while his son cries in the background.
  • Artistic License – Economics: As pointed out by this xkcd comic, the Nash Equilibrium as described by the film is actually unbalanced because it only works if there isn't a reason to go for the hot blonde after flirting with her friends. But the scenario presented is more the instigation of his "Eureka!" Moment, and done so to be easily understood by the audience, and the final theory is only discussed in broad terms rather than the specifics.
  • Attractiveness Isolation: Discussed in the scene where John Nash and some colleagues are out drinking at a bar, and see a nameless attractive blonde woman. Nash arrives at a mathematical reason for it happening. The main thing being illustrated by Nash in the scene is a common Game Theory model known as Prisoner's Dilemma, which essentially states that two competitors' greed - and incentive to not lose - dooms them to fail in their pursuit. It's not about the blonde being ignored so much as it is about the group of men working together to not step on one-another's toes. In any case, Nash uses this logic as the basis for one of his theories.
  • Badass Boast: And he does it with one word...
    General: You ever just know something, Doctor?
    Nash: Constantly.
  • Broken Ace: Nash. He is a brilliant and successful graduate student and later mathematics professor but is a socially clumsy loner with schizophrenia.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Gifted mathematician who is also a paranoid schizophrenic. Also a Deconstruction as Dr. Rosen, the psychiatrist who treats him, speculates that the likely reason why John's illness has gone unnoticed for so long is because a certain level of eccentricity is seen as normal, even expected, among academics.
  • "Terrified. Mortified. Petrified. Stupefied. By you."
  • Cutting Back to Reality: After Nash stops taking his medication, a very tense scene ensues where John's "handler" orders him to stop Alicia from calling the hospital; we then cut to Alicia's perspective as she turns to see what John is looking at - only to find there's nothing there. From then on, it becomes common to cut between John's perceptions and what is actually happening.
  • Do You Want to Copulate?: John tries this twice, first with a girl at his college (who slaps him after he delivers the line below) and Alicia, who finds it endearing.
    John Nash: I don't exactly know what I am required to say in order for you to have intercourse with me. But could we assume that I said all that. I mean essentially we are talking about fluid exchange, right? So could we go just straight to the sex.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: Subverted. When explaining the sinister Soviet conspiracy currently underway across the US, Parcher notes "McCarthy is an idiot, but unfortunately that doesn't make him wrong". Of course, Parcher is one of Nash's hallucinations and the New Freedom conspiracy doesn't exist.
  • E = MC Hammer: Averted. Ron Howard hired actual mathematics professors to hand double for Crowe during the writing sequences to make sure all of his equations were mathematically accurate.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Nash develops his theory out of his friends' fighting over a girl. Not that the explanation he gives is anything like Nash's real contributions to game theory.
    • And he finally determines that his hallucinations aren't real after realizing preteen Marcie hasn't aged in all the years he's known her.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: The college guys see a group of co-eds and all start talking about how they all want the blonde.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • There are small hints about Nash's increasing schizophrenia, like when Marcie is running through a flock of pigeons, none of them fly away from her.
    • All three hallucinatory characters are first heard before they're seen, as real schizophrenic delusions tend to be auditory before they become visual. In real life, Nash only heard the hallucinations, he didn't see them.
    • When John beckons loudly to Patcher following their rift, a puzzled Sol peers out of the door and curiously asks what the deal is as though he saw or heard nothing.
    • John is the only student at the university who ever interacts with Charles.
    • All the technology during John’s work with Parcher is clearly way too advanced for the 1960s.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Only to those familiar with Nash. However, the script was written under the (correct) assumption that most of the audience wouldn't know who he was.
  • Forgets to Eat:
    • Nash. It's a bit of a trick though, and later in life he seems to have outgrown this problem without imaginary reminders.
    Charles: When did you last eat? You know, food.
    John: You have no respect for cognitive reverie, you know that?
    Charles: Yes. But pizza... Now, pizza, I have enormous respect for. And, of course, beer.
    • He says the same to a student near the end of the film, offering half of his sandwich.
  • Good with Numbers: Inevitably, given that the protagonist is a gifted mathematician.
  • Hallucinations: Nash suffered from these as his schizophrenia worsened.
  • Helpless with Laughter: During a mutual personal crisis, Charles Herman ends up launching John Nash's desk through a window and out into the courtyard below. The two are left staring at the wreckage of the desk for a few seconds; then, Charles remarks, "That Isaac Newton fella was right," prompting the two of them to break out in a fit of Tension-Cutting Laughter that leaves both men collapsed on the floor, giggling helplessly.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: The real Nash criticized the Jewish involvement in communism. He was prone to alcoholism as a result of his schizophrenia, had a son out of wedlock— with a woman he was cheating on Alicia with, no less—and was in general much more of an abrasive, Insufferable Genius than he is depicted as in the film.
  • Historical Relationship Overhaul: The marriage of John Nash and Alicia Larde is presented as a constant, stabilizing influence on Nash as he descends into schizophrenia, and the ending has him publicly dedicate his Nobel Prize to her in 1994. In reality, Nash and Larde divorced in 1963 and did not renew their relationship until 1994. They didn't remarry until 2001, the same year the movie came out.
  • Hollywood Science: The Nash Equilibrium doesn't work out the way it's explained in the movie.
  • Insufferable Genius: Deconstructed. In his youth, Nash is as arrogant as he is brilliant. His inability to connect with people and admit when he’s wrong exacerbates his mental illness.
  • Meaningful Echo: Several.
    Hansen: You scared?
    Nash: Terrified. Mortified. Petrified. Stupefied ... by you.
    • And:
    "Gentlemen, the great John Nash."
  • Mockspiracy: The Soviet group "New Freedom" planning a nuclear explosion in the United States never actually existed; it is all in John's imagination.
  • Mockstery Tale: It initially looks like a spy thriller movie about a mathematician John Nash who assisted Pentagon in combating a nefarious Soviet conspiracy, but then it's revealed that Nash is actually schizophrenic; the spy movie-like scenes were all in his head.
  • No Medication for Me: When Nash realizes he can't respond to his wife, he stops taking his meds and promptly falls back into his old delusions. Also, while the real John Nash never went back to taking antipsychotics, the film inserted a line about him "taking newer medications" because the writers did not want to encourage moviegoers with mental illnesses to stop therapy.
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: Nash asks if a note from his doctor will get him out of teaching, only to be reminded that he is a doctor, and no it won't.
  • Offscreen Inertia: Used in-universe. Nash realizes one of the people in his life is a hallucination because he's supposedly known them for years, but their daughter has never aged the entire time.
  • Offscreen Teleportation: William, "Big Brother," manages to go from pointing a gun at John's head, then, when John turns towards a distraction, has William in front of him again. Of course, William had the advantage of being a hallucination.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Russell Crowe's American accent tends to not only appear and disappear from scene to scene throughout the film, but at times he sounds like he's from different regions of the United States.
  • Oscar Bait: Very Loosely Based on a True Story (and heavily whitewashed) biopic about a gifted mathematician suffering from a mental illness which he learns to overcome in part through The Power of Love.
  • Paranoid Thriller: John is recruited by the intelligence services to find hidden messages in newspapers and thwart a Communist plot against the US. He's getting increasingly paranoid, finding hidden messages everywhere, and suspecting everyone around him of being a Communist spy. It turns out he was schizophrenic; the Communist plot and the intelligence services he believed he was working for were all in his head.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • To get involved with John Nash's story it was necessary to present the hallucinations as though they were real to the audience, which would have been impossible going straight by the real story that Nash only had auditory hallucinations. Presenting fictional characters as opposed to real characters (especially his "roommate") made it a much more interesting movie.
    • John and his wife divorced in the 60s, and were still apart by the time he was awarded the Nobel Prize. They did remain exceptionally close, she provided him a home after his psychiatric discharge, and in fact they remarried the same year the movie came out and remained married until they died in a 2015 auto accident. Similarly, some of the more controversial aspects of both his mental illness and personal life were removed so there wouldn't seem to be a connection.
    • The real Nash never started taking medication for his psychosis again, but towards the end of the film Nash makes a reference to taking "the newer medications". Ron Howard didn't want to send the message that someone with severe mental illness ought to simply learn to put up with it, or attempt to overcome it through sheer willpower.
  • Psychological Thriller: A prominent element of the film from when William Parcher first appears until John's second admission to a mental institution.
  • Race Lift: John's wife in real life was Salvadoran, but she's white in the movie.
  • Red Scare: Nash is brought to The Pentagon to solve a Russian code that has been found. He then goes on to work reading through newspapers and magazines looking for patterns that will lead to finding a suitcase nuke that the Russians will use to blow up part of America. Which of course isn't real, it is part of his paranoid schizophrenia.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Several, full of newspaper / magazine clippings.
  • Rule of Perception: Until the audience sees that John isn't taking his meds, he acts like he is, right down to having ED. Less than five seconds after his pill stash is revealed, he starts cracking another code.
  • The Reveal: John has been hoarding his pills. It's then shown his delusional behavior has returned and he's started hallucinating.
  • Schizo Tech: All the government technology have not been invented yet when Nash saw them, which is a clue that it's all a hallucination.
  • Science-Related Memetic Disorder: Nash found that his anti-schizophrenia meds drained his energy and left him unable to accomplish anything, so he ditched the pills and battled his mental illness with cold logic.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The whole subplot about the Soviet group "New Freedom" and John working for William Parcher to thwart their plans. It never really existed, it's all in John's head.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Averted by Charles' niece, as she never seems to age.
  • Shout-Out:
    • When John is asking his friend if he's been introduced to Harvey he's referencing Jimmy Stewart's imaginary friend in the film Harvey.
    • John refers to Parcher as "Big Brother", and his office is Room101.
  • Smart People Play Chess:
    • Nash plays Go with another genius at one point. When Nash loses, he has an emotional reaction that is easily mistaken for being a Sore Loser. However, it's actually the beginning of a revelation that will eventually land him a Nobel Prize.
    • Nash really was known for his belief that Go is a flawed game, and even invented his own in which the first move and perfect play will guarantee victory, marketed as Hex.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The lonely piano theme during the car chase.
  • Take a Third Option: During a class that Nash teaches, he insists on keeping the windows shut despite the fact that it makes the room extremely hot, because a construction worker is jackhammering outside. "Your comfort takes a backseat to my being able to hear myself speak." Alicia, then one of his students, takes a third option: Opening the window, she gets the attention of the construction worker, explains the situation, and asks him very politely if he wouldn't mind continuing his work after class. Nash is suitably impressed.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: The entire first half of the film becomes this once Nash is diagnosed with schizophrenia.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Nash. To make it worse, the official film descriptions were written as if from his viewpoint.
  • Windmill Crusader: Nash was hired by the US government in their struggle against terrorism. What neither Nash nor his closest superiors know is that Nash is not only brilliant but also a paranoid schizophrenic who take orders from two kinds of US officials: The real and the imaginary. (He's a complex guy.) The latter “branch of the government” takes him on a quest that only keep getting weirder as the (imaginary) terrorists get closer to their nefarious goal of planting nukes in American cities.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: Acknowledged. So, they hired mathematicians to do the work.