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Sandeep Karipineni

Media Critique

Portraying the life of John Nash, the film A Beautiful Mind was successful at

bringing schizophrenia to light. The film followed his life from the his school years at

Princeton all the way through his Nobel Prize acceptance almost 50 years later. While in

the movie, he is portrayed as a schizophrenic in general, in reality the character would

actually be a paranoid schizophrenic, where other types exist also (catatonic,

disorganized, residual). Throughout the movie, we see various episodes of his

schizophrenia and even see an attempted treatment as it would be during his time in the

1950s. Through the narrative structure, those paying attention can follow the

psychological pathway that Nash follows, and even can learn a little about the causes,

symptoms, and treatment of schizophrenia.

Starting with the causes, not much is revealed in the movie about Nash’s personal

life. All that is told to the viewers is that he has no family, but whether that means he is

estranged from his family (possibly due to psychosis) or that his family is deceased is

uncertain. The current psychological belief is that the interplay of nature and nurture for

schizophrenia is such that our genes are directly related to how vulnerable we are to

different environmental risks. In this case, Nash is isolated from his family, and when he

arrives at Princeton, he also becomes isolated from the other students. Instead of

choosing to socialize, he spends his time alone, attempting to figure out a “novel idea”

that would earn him worldwide recognition and acclaim. When we find out that his

college roommate Charles is actually just a hallucination, we realize that truly he must

have created Charles to not be alone. Later on in the movie, he remarks that Charles has

been his best friend throughout life, which simply goes to show that his extreme
introversion would be directly correlated with his schizophrenic delusions and

hallucinations. What we do not know about Nash that we could possibly know about a

real life patient is his neurobiological state. The current belief is that problems in

neurodevelopment (possibly neural migration) or issues with levels of dopamine and

glutamate are some of the main causes of schizophrenia. Unfortunately, none of this

information about Nash is revealed, meaning that we must simply settle for an

environmental cause for his disorder.

While the deeper causes of his schizophrenia cannot be revealed in the movie, his

symptoms take front stage. Most paranoid schizophrenics suffer from the positive

symptoms of schizophrenia (delusions and hallucinations) but do not really suffer from

any negative or disorganized symptoms. In the film, Nash fits this paranoid schizophrenic

model almost perfectly. As his main issues are from the delusions of grandeur and the

delusions of persection he suffers, and ultimately the visual hallucinations. When he

realizes that many of his friends are being published and being asked to provide key

services to the government (during a very stressful Cold War period), he eventually

begins to delude himself into believing that he is being called upon to stop a nuclear

bomb from going off in the states. It seems that his jealousy of his college friends feeds

his delusions of grandeur once he does finally get published. Similarly, when Alicia,

Nash’s wife, calls a psychologist to try and help him, he has delusions of persecution,

believing that the orderlies and the doctor are Soviet spies trying to gain information from

him. The most obvious point of his schizophrenia though is the visual hallucinations that

he suffers from for most of his life. In reality, visual hallucinations are very rare and the

real Nash only suffered from auditory hallucinations. Yet in movie form, the visual
hallucinations he has of a best friend, a little girl, and a government agent all feed into

creating the fantasy world that he lives in.

In terms of treatment, we get to watch as he undergoes a 1950s approach to

psychosis and primarily schizophrenia. At first, the doctor tries to have a sit down

discussion with him, but Nash is still focused on his fantasy world, completely ignoring

the questioning of the doctor. At this point, the doctor realizes that a far more drastic

treatment plan must be taken, so he has Nash undergo insulin coma therapy. While no

longer a part of schizophrenic treatment, in the 1950s it showed promise in putting

patients into remission from their schizophrenic symptoms. Finally, when Nash is

released, he is put on a daily regiment of medications. During Nash’s time, this would

probably be the very first neuroleptics, or typical antipsychotics. While Nash is under this

treatment, he seems to suffer from emotional flattening and lack of focus, unable to

interact with his friends and family and unable to work on his mathematics. This causes

Nash to stop these medications to try to return to his normal life, but along with his

normal life came the delusions and hallucinations. In reality, the major side effect that is

reported with these antipsychotics is problems in the extrapyramidal system. The movie

then suggests that he continued living his life off the pills, but with the cognitive change

that he ignores the hallucinations. What would actually happen is that he would have

been taken off whatever prescription that he was on and changed to another

antipsychotic, eventually switching to the newer atypical antipsychotic drugs, which have

far less side effects. Were he to stop treatment entirely, he would most likely have

devolved deep into the fantasy world he had created.


All in all, the movie does a service to the schizophrenia awareness cause. Where

people may simply before see schizophrenia as a disease of people with low levels of

functioning and severe psychotic symptoms, the film portrays a highly functioning (at

most times) member of society who is waging a war for his own sanity. Truly, this film is

not meant to be a documentary but an entertainment piece, as things like visual

hallucinations are more for the viewer than a common symptom of schizophrenia.

Ultimately with the rise in awareness of schizophrenia, more money will come to

research which translates into a better scientific understanding of the disorder. So even

though the movie may have been made simply to make money, it also aids the fight

against schizophrenia.