Study Guide

A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind Introduction


Release Year: 2001

Genre: Drama

Director: Ron Howard

Writer: Akiva Goldsman, Sylvia Nasar (book)

Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Christopher Plummer


If we asked you to pick something that personified the adjectives "edgy" and "dangerous," you might think of black leather jackets. Motorcycles. Bare-knuckle boxing. Driving an Aston Martin in a tuxedo while downing martinis and chasing dames.

You probably wouldn't think of…math.

But that's probably because you haven't seen the movie A Beautiful Mind yet. This 2001 flick makes studying math look edgier than a pair of spike-studded stilettos and more dangerous than base-jumping.

Sure, we start out thinking that this movie might be a little dry when we realize our hero is a mathematics grad student named John Nash, but things pick up pretty quickly—and before long, he's cracking Russian codes for the U.S. government and being followed by U.S.S.R. operatives.

(Or, that's what he believes, anyway. But let's not get all spoiler-y and ahead of ourselves.)

All you need to know for now is that this movie plugs some major thrills and suspense into what initially looks like "just" a drama about a socially awkward but brilliant academic. There's a lot more to John Nash than what first meets the eye.

With all that going on, storytelling-wise, it's no wonder the film was a big box office draw. To date, its total domestic gross weighs in at $170,742,341 …which is way more in line with a movie charting the career path of a superhero than a math whiz. Producers Universal, DreamWorks, and Imagine Entertainment had to have been pretty stoked.

And to keep the good news rolling, the movie was also a hit at the Oscars. It racked up statuettes for Best Actress (for Jennifer Connelly), Best Director, Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, and the big kahuna, Best Picture.

Not a bad haul for a quiet little movie about math geeks, eh?

  

What is A Beautiful Mind About and Why Should I Care?

Schizophrenia affects about one percent of the population.

We know that sounds like a dry little statistic, but take a second to think about how many people that is.

Even if you aren't personally affected by schizophrenia—meaning that you're not schizophrenic and have no schizophrenic loved ones—chances are that, if you're walking down a crowded city street, you'll pass a few people with schizophrenia within a couple of minutes. If you live in a town of 60,000, that means that six hundred of your fellow townsfolk have schizophrenia. If you're in a graduating class of five hundred, chances are good that you're matriculating with five schizophrenics.

And schizophrenia gets a bad rap. If you check out the American Psychiatric Association's page on "What Is Schizophrenia," you'll notice that they include both the "one in a hundred" stat we listed above, but also the following words:

The complexity of schizophrenia may help explain why there are misconceptions about the disease. […] Most people with schizophrenia are not dangerous or violent. They also are not homeless nor do they live in hospitals. Most people with schizophrenia live with family, in group homes or on their own. (Source)

That's included because many, many people think of schizophrenia as more than a little scary. And that prejudice needs to be addressed.

This prejudice is why it's so vital that movies like A Beautiful Mind exist.

(Were you wondering what all this talk had to do with the movie? Well, spoiler alert: John Nash was schizophrenic. Now that you're up to speed…)

This movie's message is right there in the title: John Nash's mind was schizophrenic and beautiful. He was a visionary man who was heroic on both a grand scale (he won a little thing called the Nobel Prize, no biggie) and on a personal scale: he was able to pursue a career and establish a warm and loving family life at a time when schizophrenia was especially stigmatized.

So file A Beautiful Mind with other inspiring stories of overcoming adversity like The Pursuit of Happyness, It's A Wonderful Life, Forrest Gump, and Precious. Because this is a movie that shows that it's not only possible to live with schizophrenia, it's possible to thrive.

A word of warning: there is something terrifying about A Beautiful Mind. But it's not John Nash's schizophrenia…it's the fact that he's so massively intelligent.

Trivia

Well, let's start with the bad news: The real-life Nashes ended up dying tragically in a car accident. (Source)

And here's some good news and bad news mixed together: John and Alicia actually got divorced for a while…but then remarried years later. They were together for about sixty years. (Source)

Charles might not have been real—but the actor who plays him, Paul Bettany, is. And after filming was over, he married Jennifer Connolly, the actress who plays Alicia. (Source)

A Beautiful Mind Resources

Websites

A Snapshot of the Web Twenty Years Ago
Check out Professor Nash's legit Princeton website…still up, and still 90s fabulous.

Book or TV Adaptations

Where It All Started
Before there was a movie, there was a "beautiful" book.

Articles and Interviews

A Beautiful Interview
Can't get enough of Nash or the real details of his life (you know, beyond the Hollywood version)? Look no further.

Video

Nobel Laureate in Action
See the real John Nash talking about his life's achievements.

Coming Attractions
Not sure you want to invest two hours in a mathematician? Check out the original trailer and get excited.

Audio

Math Never Sounded So Exciting
James Horner's thrilling score ramps up from the opening credits and thunders away for pretty much the entire movie. Take a listen.

Images

The Real Deal
Check out the real John and Alicia Nash, as they looked later in life.

Hey, Where's Alicia?
Alicia's a huge part of John's story in the film, but this poster is all about John.