The 2001 motion picture A Beautiful Mind stars Russell Crowe as the Nobel Prize winning mathematician John Nash, a complicated character who along with his brilliance, was also plagued by a life long struggle with schizophrenia. The film’s narrative plots a path for the audience from times before Nash was aware of his illness through to the point at which he and his wife find a way to manage the condition. In this short essay I intend to explore and examine the ways in which the theme of schizophrenia is treated within A Beautiful Mind, from the symptoms, to the treatment and the minutia of how the illness impacts on the individual and the individual’s family.
The first signs within the narrative that the audience can see John’s illness manifesting is in his increasing inability to communicate his feelings, which takes a toll on his personal relationships and the intimacy that he once enjoyed. The role that his wife takes on during the film can almost be seen as an audience surrogate, with Alicia seeking to help from the outside by seeking treatment and the need for medical definitions of her husband’s problems. From John himself, however, we get to experience a more internal side of the illness, with depictions of hallucinations and delusions along with outward symptoms like awkward facial expressions and slurred, jumbled passages of speech. In showing both the internal and external sides of schizophrenia through the experiences of both Alicia and John, the film brings a pleasing sense of balance to the topic of mental health.
Something else that the film does very effectively is show that schizophrenia, and more broadly any mental illness, is never a single cure type of problem. Though John shows some change in function and a degree of control after initial treatment, the narrative makes it clear to the audience that the battle is far from won, and this is demonstrated by the fact that the character continues to experience hallucinations and follow them as if they were real life: for example, his belief that he was a government employee helping to decode newspaper secrets.
Interestingly, something that is particularly significant about the treatment of mental illness within the film is that John, by the end of the narrative, instead of experiencing a triumphant victory over schizophrenia, has learned to cope with his afflictions in a way that allows him to function as best he can. In choosing not to interact with his hallucinations, John is taking control of his illness whilst at the same time understanding that he can never truly rid himself of the schizophrenia. In treating it like a part of yourself that needs as much care and attention as any other, a balance can be found where you neither let it rule your life nor completely succumb to its heavy power. This suggests a wider point that it is possible for anybody, not just John Nash, to be able to take control of their mental illness and live alongside it without allowing it to completely dominate the essence of their lives.
In conclusion, it would be fair to surmise that A Beautiful Mind is an extremely effective cinematic tool that can be used to demonstrate both the effects and concepts that are related to schizophrenia. The picture manages to capture and portray the essence and impact of an illness that by its very nature is almost intangible, and for that it should be applauded. It can be seen as a great resource for opening up a discussion about schizophrenia and mental illness in general.