Study Guide

A Beautiful Mind John Nash (Russell Crowe)

John Nash (Russell Crowe)

John is not your garden-variety hero. For starters, he's not the most…how do we say this delicately? Well, we'll take a page out of John's book and forget delicacy: John's a rude, arrogant jerk when we first meet him.

However, that's not to say we're not totally fascinated to watch John's whole journey, see how he grows, and learn to feel and cheer for this crusty genius. Because it's a pretty insanely amazing journey.

He's Not Like the Other Princeton Boys…But He Doesn't Care One Bit

We meet John when he first arrives at Princeton for grad school, and he's not really fitting in. For one thing, he's got a pretty different background from the other guys in his class. You see, they seem like East Coast preppie types, and John is from the South.

One of his new classmates, Hansen, wastes no time in trying to make John feel like the odd man out at a party for the new grad students:

HANSEN: Hey, I'll take another.

JOHN: Excuse me?

HANSEN: A thousand pardons. I simply assumed you were the waiter.

SOL: Play nice, Hansen.

NEILS: Nice is not Hansen's strong suit.

HANSEN: An honest mistake.

Yikes—that would be enough to ruffle the feathers of anyone, right? But John's not your average person, and he so doesn't care what this guy Hansen thinks of him. In fact, he's got his own insults to toss out in response to being "mistaken" for a waiter:

JOHN: Well, Martin Hansen. It is Martin, isn't it?

HANSEN: Why, yes, John, it is.

JOHN: I imagine you're getting quite used to miscalculation. I've read your pre-prints, both of them, one on Nazi ciphers, and the other one on non-linear equations, and I am supremely confident that there is not a single seminal or innovative idea in either one of them. Enjoy your punch.

Double yikes. We are still on John's side and all, but that was pretty harsh…and he seems maybe just a wee bit arrogant himself here.

In any case, we get the message early on: John doesn't really fit in or play nicely with others, and he's okay with that. His roommate, Charles (whom John does actually like) zeroes right in on this aspect of John's personality:

CHARLES: Maybe you're just better with the old integers than you are with people.

JOHN: My first grade teacher, she told me that I was born with two helpings of brain, but only half a helping of heart.

That's, um, sweet of a teacher to say to a six-year-old? But it appears to be true: John leads with intellect, science, and math and doesn't really bother himself too much with feelings.

He's Bad with Women....Really Bad

That whole "not bothering too much with feelings" thing? Yeah, it doesn't go over well when he's trying to do the dating dance. Take his encounter in a bar with a beautiful blonde lady, for example:

HANSEN: This is going to be classic.

WOMAN: Maybe you want to buy me a drink.

JOHN: I don't exactly know what I'm 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're talking about fluid exchange, right? So, could we just go straight to the sex?

You can imagine how well this goes over, right? It doesn't. In fact, it gets him slapped. So yeah, his personality quirks definitely make life difficult for him with the ladies.

However, after leaving Princeton for a position at M.I.T. (which involves teaching), he hooks up with a student named Alicia. Alicia seems pretty unique, too. Sure, she's not awkward like John, but she doesn't seem to mind that he's awkward, and his brilliance seems to more than make up for the fact that he's a little quirky.

We know that these two are meant to be when Alicia doesn't run screaming from John's version of flirting:

JOHN: I have a tendency to expedite information flow by being direct. I often don't get a pleasant result.

ALICIA: Try me.

JOHN: All right. I find you attractive. Your aggressive moves towards me indicate that you feel the same way. But still, ritual requires that we continue with a number of platonic activities before we have sex. I am proceeding with those activities, but in point of actual fact, all I really want to do is have intercourse with you as soon as possible. Are you going slap me now?

ALICIA [kisses him]: How was that result?

Yup, she's definitely the girl for him.

Things seem to be working out great for John at this point: Thanks to making a massive breakthrough for economic theory, he's got a great job, and he ends up marrying Alicia and starting a family. It seems like, some awkward behaviors and quirks aside, he's really kind of at the top of the world. Here's the thing, though…

…He Sees Fake People

It's probably better than seeing dead people, but still. Remember that roommate, Charles? Not real. And there's this whole "spy games" plot that John gets involved in that's also not real.

You see, John believes that the Department of Defense has recruited him to help break Russian codes and allow the U.S. to avoid nuclear war. He legitimately believes that these folks have implanted a secret code in his arm to use for information "drops," and that he's being followed and when he meets with his contact at the DoD, a dude named Parcher.

Somehow (it's never quite explained how), some doctors become aware that something is up with John, corner him at a lecture, and take him away to a hospital for treatment.

Naturally Alicia, who up to this point believed all of John's talk about classified work and other imagined happenings, is totally shocked when John's psychiatrist, Dr. Rosen, explains what's been going on:

DR. ROSEN: John has schizophrenia. People with this disorder are often paranoid.

ALICIA: But…but his work, he deals with conspiracies, so…

DR. ROSEN: Yes, yes, I know. In John's world, these behaviors are accepted, encouraged. As such, his illness may have gone untreated far longer than is typical.

ALICIA: What do you mean? How long?

DR. ROSEN: Possibly since graduate school. At least, that's when his hallucinations seem to have begun. […] One, so far, that I am aware of. An imaginary roommate named Charles Herman. […] I phoned Princeton. According to their housing records, John lived alone.

Yup, that's right: John imagined the job with the DoD as super secret code breaker and a bunch of other stuff (including a car chase and gunfight) that went with it. And—this part is heartbreaking—he imagined Charles, his super hilarious and charming English roommate.

So, yeah, poor John has a long road to recovery ahead, and it's super hard for him to balance the need to live in reality with a pretty hardcore aversion to the standard drugs and treatments for schizophrenia. When he's on the therapies, he has trouble working and doesn't seem all that "with it," and without the therapies…well, he sees fake people.

Getting "Well"

With Alicia's help, though, he totally pushes through and manages to get back to work and function.

Many years pass, apparently with things on the upward swing, and a dude from the Nobel Prize committee named Thomas King comes looking for John to kind of suss out if the prof is well enough to receive the prize. John gives him the run down on how he maintains his mental health these days:

JOHN: Oh, I see, so you came here to find out if I was crazy? Find out if I would screw everything up if I actually won? Dance around the podium, strip naked and squawk like a chicken, things of this nature?

THOMAS: Something like that, yes.

JOHN: Would I embarrass you? Yes, it is possible. You see, I am crazy. I take the newer medications, but I still see things that are not here. I just choose not to acknowledge them. Like a diet of the mind, I choose not to indulge certain appetites.

So, there you have it. The imaginary folks are definitely still around (we can see them, too), but John has managed to keep them from interfering with his life.

Oh yeah, and his answer must have impressed King, because John does get that Nobel Prize.

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