Normal L. Keltner suggests that the film A Beautiful Mind is not a useful resource for the study of schizophrenia. The film discusses the life of John Nash who won a Nobel Prize in Economics and suffered from paranoia and schizophrenia in adulthood. Whilst the film does sensitively portray the difficulties that a schizophrenic person experiences, Keltner’s comment does have some strength behind it as a film could never be a truly empirical representation of anything – it also exercises some level of dramatic license in order to achieve the highest possible level of entertainment. From this point of view, A Beautiful Mind could never be used as a strong presentation of schizophrenia in scientific circles; it focuses too much on how life is for schizophrenics and their loved ones and much less on understanding how and why the condition occurs.
In her article about A Beautiful Mind, Marilyn Charles discusses how the mentally disabled can be narcissistic and creative and states that “At times we [analysts] find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of being unable to discriminate between truth and fiction” (Charles 21) and she goes on to state that this is “quite vividly” demonstrated in Ron Howard’s film. However, again, I feel that the film has used some dramatic license to embellish these details – one scene in particular demonstrates this: Nash’s wife tries to engage him in martial activities and he refuses to: his wife goes into the bathroom and screams – the frustrations of her failed marriage spilling over into the room around her and Nash simply lays in bed, and does not attempt to comfort her at all (Howard). This scene, arguably the scene which won Jennifer Connelly her Oscar, portrays the anguish that a mental illness can cause in the lives of those it affects. It highlights Charles’ point that Nash becomes so caught up in his own ‘reality’ that the involvement of his wife and their children become secondary – tertiary, even. However, the viewer is not offered an explanation of why his behaviour is like this – we are left to make our own assumptions and as such, it does not serve to better our knowledge of schizophrenia, but perhaps better improve our understanding of what it could be like.
In his article entitled A Beautiful Mind Ron Howard (Director), Keltner commends the film on its accurate depiction of the strain on families of people with schizophrenia but argues that there are a number of discrepancies which greatly reduce the empirical impact of the film itself: Keltner claims that Nash’s hallucinations were auditory whereas, in the film, they are visual (Keltner 110) – demonstrating immediately how the film uses this to dramatic effect as opposed to upholding accuracy. Equally, he also argues that in the film, Nash’s wife stays with him throughout his battle with schizophrenia but that, in reality, she left him and only remarried him in 2001 once his condition had improved somewhat (Keltner 111) – again exercising the film’s dramatic license for ‘good entertainment’ rather than upholding its accurate depiction of Nash and his condition. Therefore, it is clear from these two examples alone that the film’s presentation of schizophrenia, whilst extremely accurate for the most part, is not entirely be trusted because its primary role is to entertain audiences – not inform.
A Beautiful Mind. Dir. Ron Howard. Perf. Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris. Universal Pictures, 2001. Film.
Charles, Marilyn. “A Beautiful Mind.” The American Journal of Psychoanalysis 63.1 (2003): 21-37. Print.
Keltner, Norman L. “A Beautiful Mind Ron Howard (Director).” Perspectives in Psychiatric Care 43.2 (2007): 110-111. Print.