Welcome to the most exciting movie you'll ever see about…math geeks.
Yes, that's right, the movie starts off by introducing us to John Nash, who's some kind of math whiz. He's just arrived at Princeton to start graduate school with a bunch of other math geniuses. It's kind of a math genius zoo, actually. With tweed coats.
Unfortunately, John doesn't fit in immediately with his fellow zoo animals. First of all, he doesn't go to class that often, which right off the bat isolates him from everyone. Why is he at graduate school if he's not interested in going to class, you ask? Well, he thinks it's more important to be sitting at his desk, searching for a rockstar thesis idea.
So, he pretty much sticks to his room and himself, which automatically limits his friend pool. Then, there are John's social skills. John is confident and smart, a combo that sometimes comes off as arrogant, and really awkward in social situations, which makes him less than warm and fuzzy with others. And John's attempts to talk to girls? Pretty disastrous in general, from what we can tell.
But not to worry: John has a super cool English roommate named Charles who seems to give him all the companionship he needs, at least at first. So, John doesn't seem super lonely.
Unfortunately, John's department is unimpressed with his class-avoiding ways, particularly when he can't come up with a decent idea for a paper. At one point, it looks like John might not end up living up to all those great expectations that everyone had for him.
And then, just like that, John ends up coming up with a huge idea that ends up revamping economic theory. It's exactly the kind of big splash he was looking to make, and it guarantees him a supernova bright future in academia.
Or rather, it seems guaranteed.
Things take a weird turn when John gets placed in the prestigious Wheeler Lab at MIT after leaving grad school. Some guy from the Department of Defense gets him involved in breaking codes for the U.S. government to help them beat out the Russians in the Cold War, and we suddenly see our favorite math geek making file drops (using a secret passcode that has been implanted in his wrist) and getting in the middle of shootouts between the DoD dude (whose name is Parcher) and Russian spies. Not exactly your typical day at the office for a mathematician.
Oh, we should probably pause here to mention that while all this has been going on, John has managed to hook up with a woman named Alicia who, unlike the other women we've seen John with in this film, "gets" and totally digs him. In fact, things go so well that they end up getting married.
It's all very sweet and awww-inspiring, but when John starts getting followed by spies and mixed up in shootouts, he's pretty worried that he's putting his new bride (and their baby-on-the-way) in danger. So, he tries to bow out of his code-breaking duties.
However, Parcher keeps following him and demanding that he continue working for the U.S. government, or else he'll out John as a code breaker to the Russians. So, as you might imagine, John is pretty freaked out.
Things come to a head when John is doing a presentation at a mathematics conference at Harvard, sees suspicious men enter the auditorium, and freaks out. The men chase and subdue John with drugs that knock him out, and we're super worried about what these dudes have planned.
When John comes to, though, we realize that everything we thought we knew was 100% wrong. Did you find it weird that a mathematician would be mixed up in all this international intrigue? Well, us too, but we had no idea what was really behind it all: John is schizophrenic, and all of that action was part of hallucinations. Not real. Didn't happen.
Oh, and just to add some heartbreak into the mix, John's super close friend and former roommate, Charles, was also imaginary. That's really a kick in the teeth, because Charles is super-awesome.
So, John has a rough road from this point on. First, he has to come to grips with the fact that he's sick, and the things he thought were real…aren't. Then, he has to figure out a fix. The doctors do electro-shock therapy and put him on meds, but that pretty much makes John unable to work, which means he ends up super depressed and feeling useless.
So, he goes off his meds and ends up having the delusions again, which leads to a pretty dramatic incident in which Alicia almost commits him against his will. However, he convinces her to try to let him get better at home without drugs (for now), so he can get back to trying to work. He gets an old colleague at Princeton to get him library privileges at his old uni, and he starts working on his ideas again.
Yes, the delusions are still there, but John figures out how to ignore them and keep them at bay…and slowly, miraculously, he seems to learn how to function and live with his illness.
He even ends up with a happy ending: he wins the Nobel Prize for that theory he developed as a graduate student, and he has all the kudos, acclaim, and admiration of his math genius peers. Not the ending we would have predicted when we first met John, but we're super glad he gets it.