Study Guide

A Beautiful Mind Hero's Journey

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Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

John Nash starts out graduate school as kind of an outcast. Sure, he's brilliant, but he's socially awkward, isolates himself, and has trouble coming up with a good idea for his research. His career is on life support when he finally gets the "big idea" he's been seeking, and suddenly he's the toast of the mathematical world. His work totally revamps economic theory, and that means he gets the placement he wanted all along at the Wheeler Lab at MIT.

Call To Adventure

Things are going pretty well for John at Wheeler, and he even attracts the attention of some dudes in the U.S. government who want his help cracking Russian codes (this is all happening during the Cold War). John agrees.

Refusal Of The Call

Unfortunately, the code-cracking job ends up being a lot more than John bargained for. He believes he is being followed, and he even ends up in the middle of a shoot-out between his Department of Defense boss (a guy named Parcher) and people he assumes are Russian spies.

John has recently gotten married and has a baby on the way, so he realizes that perhaps being mixed up with international spy games isn't the best idea and tries to bow out. However, Parcher is not pleased and continues to follow him around and insist that John keep working for them.

Meeting The Mentor

The whole situation comes to a head when John freaks out during a lecture because he believes he sees Russian spies at the back of the lecture hall, and he tries to get away.

However, it turns out that the men who have come for him are medical professionals. You see, all this Russian spy intrigue was imagined. Yup, you heard us: John isn't a spy—he's schizophrenic, and a fellow named Dr. Rosen wants to help him get better.

Unfortunately, the treatments make John unable to work, which means John isn't super inclined to stay on them. He goes off his meds, and the delusions return. His wife, Alicia, almost commits him in desperation, but he begs her to be patient and help him get better without the drugs. It's totally against the doctor's orders/recommendations, but she agrees.

Crossing The Threshold

And sure enough, with Alicia's help and patience, John does seem to find strategies for keeping his delusions at bay and getting back to work. He gets his old frenemy, Hansen, to give him access to Princeton's library so he can once again be part of an academic community. In an informal way, at least.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

It's not all smooth sailing from here, though. John still sees people who aren't real, particularly when he's stressed out, and there is one unpleasant incident in the library in which John completely flips out.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Mostly, though, John copes pretty well and manages to sort out fact from fiction in his own mind.

Things are definitely looking up for John when a rep from the Nobel Prize folks comes looking for him. It turns out that John is up for the big award because of his work as a graduate student. Pretty exciting, eh?


However, first, John needs to convince the guy that he won't embarrass the committee if they give him the award. Apparently, they are worried that his incidents could tarnish the Nobel name.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

John gives the Nobel guy the straight scoop: No, he's not completely well, and he still sees things.

But, he's got it under control and functions pretty well. The guy seems pleased with what he sees.

The Road Back

Oh, and while John and the Nobel guy are sitting in Princeton's faculty lounge chatting, a bunch of Princeton professors come over and give John their pens, which is their tradition for recognizing massive achievements. So, finally, John is fitting in and getting fully recognized for his lifetime of awesome work and huge influence.


So, John ends up winning the Nobel Prize after all. He's finally back on top.

Return With The Elixir

In his acceptance speech, John gives Alicia big props for making it all possible. Sure, the Nobel Prize is great, but from the way he's talking, her love is the greatest discovery and achievement of his life.

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