“A Beautiful Mind” is the movie which goes far beyond the Hollywood template of a refined genre with a foreseeable outcome. It depicts a man whom nature granted a rare gift in mathematics but who had to sacrifice something in return. In John Nash’s case, it is his mental health. His psychiatric disorders affect his work and his closest people throughout his whole life and have some manifestations he is not aware of. Although he is surrounded by devoted people, notably his wife and friends, it takes him longer to learn to live with his disease and to distinguish reality from illusion.
John Nash has an advanced form of schizophrenia, which is characterized by constant defects in the perception or expression of reality. On the contrary to the medical diagnosis, which suggests grossly disorganized thinking, thought processes of Nash were second to none regarding analytical, calculating ability. In this case, it is accompanied by hallucinations which he takes for real people. In medical terms, a delusion is a sensory perception which occurs without an external stimulus. Hallucinations can be of various kinds – auditory, gustatory, tactile, visual, etc., and the character of John Nash experienced their advanced mixed forms.
In the first part of the movie, they are not explained. In fact, as we see a young student, John Nash, arriving at the university, it is only his intellectual stamina and lack of social skills that are established. During the whole first part of the film, neither Nash nor the audience is aware of the fact that lots of people, including John’s best friend and a mysterious Department of Defense agent are induced by his mental disorders and are, in fact, not real. It is only later that the horrifying truth is gradually revealed when his erratic behavior becomes too extraordinary for his wife and friends to close their eyes to it.
The peculiar thing about the main character is his smoking habit. It was skillfully spotted by the filmmakers and is not merely a part of the image. Smoking is a characteristic feature of people with schizophrenia (estimated between 75% and 90%). However, lung cancer poses much less threat to the disturbed people. The reason for this is still unknown, with presuppositions including a genetic resistance to cancer or a side-effect of drugs being taken. Besides, it is sometimes argued that soaring level of smoking may be owing to a wish to self-medicate with nicotine. Some studies claim that there is a minor, but a significant preventive effect of smoking on the risk of acquiring schizophrenia later in life. However, this is not entirely justified, and there have been other studies presenting radically opposite views. Whatever the truth is, this detail of smoking habit was quite natural for John Nash, underlining high professionalism of the movie creators.
One of the manifestations of Nash’s schizophrenia was his imaginary best friend. He visited him frequently, and he was the only person who always stood by when everybody was insisting he had a mental disorder. That is why John has a great affection towards him and suffers unbearably when he learns he is unreal. Some critics even claim that John’s attachment to his friend borders on homosexuality, but, in my opinion, this is not true. Their relationship is very tender as he embodies John’s idea of a person he can confide in. He trusts him unlimitedly and may let him bath his infant son without the slightest idea that something may go wrong. Apparently, they have known each other for ages and knew a lot about their lives and characters. As it was a lifelong image, which acquired new qualities throughout John’s life, it was even more painful for him to part with him and come to terms with the fact that one of the closest people turned out to be unreal.
On the whole, the topic of a genius going mad has become forgotten enough for people to become fascinated by it again. The story of a mentally disturbed and at the same time exceptionally gifted person, intertwined with the story of devoted love, which is ready to sacrifice as much as it would be necessary to save the beloved man, certainly casts a shadow over any other mediocre Hollywood movie about getting the world back from the brink. It represents interest for the psychiatrists who study schizophrenia cases and for the general audience alike, as all mathematical aspects are apparent and do not require extraordinary pre-training. It is preferably a question of what is to be considered normal and abnormal that will occupy people after the viewing.
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