How the Film 'A Beautiful Mind' Portrays the True Symptoms of Schizophrenia

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A lot of films out of Hollywood set out to create real-life situations on the screen, some of these real-life situations may contain a character or characters with a mental illness or disability. Although, these situations and illnesses are sometimes inaccurately portrayed so the movie can hold more interest through dramatic cinematic effect. It could also be that the writers, actors, or directors are ignorant or misinformed about the disease itself. In any case, I have chosen a movie I believe, based on my research and what I have learned thus far from this psychology course, that accurately portrays a person suffering from schizophrenia.

In the 2001 film, A Beautiful Mind, the life of the famous, schizophrenic mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. is portrayed by Russel Crowe. This movie goes through John Nash’s life periodically. It begins when he is in graduate school at Princeton to study mathematics were the early symptoms of schizophrenia begin to show and get worse into the later parts of his life. As time progresses, so does the schizophrenia which is made worse by John’s supposed work pertaining to the military. By seeing scenes from the movie, we have the tools to take a glimpse into the struggles that someone with a disability such as schizophrenia goes through.

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During the scenes where the symptoms of schizophrenia begin to show, they are accurate to how a person actually suffering from the illness would display them. In the movie, John’s schizophrenia sets in when he is in his early 20’s, and this is the typical age for when the symptoms of schizophrenia begin to manifest in people which helps portray the accuracy of the disability. The movie also portrays John carrying symptoms of being delusional, not speaking as much, and various cognitive issues such as poor behavioral control. These are all common symptoms of schizophrenia and adds to the credibility of the film's portrayal of the illness. These symptoms are put into effect at the beginning of the movie when his roommate, Charles, appears and also when John is talking to the other graduate students, although the cognitive symptoms do not appear until other key scenes in the movie. He does not speak a lot and when he does it is not with a lot of emotion.

The peak of John Nash’s schizophrenia appears while he is giving a speech about his current mathematical research. During this speech, he sees men in suits in the aisles of the lecture room, who he thinks are soviet spies who have been ordered to capture him. As a result of this delusion, he runs out of the room and is chased by these supposed Soviet spies. They capture him and it becomes apparent that these men are not soviet spies but are actually men sent to get him and bring him to a psychiatric hospital so he can get help with his disability. John’s delusions have made him believe that he is working for the Department of Defense under a mysterious government agent, William Parcher. He believes that he has been performing top secret soviet code breaking and he has been delivering this research to a top-secret mailbox in sealed envelopes. In the hospital, his wife, Alicia Larde, reveals to him that there is no agent named William Parcher and none of his envelopes have ever been opened. She even goes on to show him that she was able to track down these top-secret documents. John is ordered to under insulin shock therapy and take medication on the side to help cure his debilitating schizophrenia. These shock therapy sessions are very violent and required restraints to hold him down while watched by a team of nurses and doctors. However, his wife was able to prove to him that no William Parcher exists, which helps lead John to the depressing realization that he actually has paranoid schizophrenia.

An analysis of the chain of events in this scene revealed that it incorporates a lot of accurate facts about schizophrenia but it also misrepresents some things about Nash’s life and schizophrenia as well. The scene begins with John delusionally thinking that soviet spies are in the audience of his talk and does a good job of representing how much his disability had affected him. This scene shows just how much a disability like schizophrenia can affect a person and how it is not like other disabilities. When people think of schizophrenia, they make the mistake of thinking that an individual has multiple personalities, instead of realizing that a schizophrenic individual has trouble differentiating between real and imaginary things. Throughout the movie, John’s personality never deviated much from where it started but his thought process does change as the movie progresses, which contributes to an accurate portrayal of schizophrenia. However, the movie does over exaggerate certain symptoms that are often associated with schizophrenia. Most individuals who have schizophrenia tend to heard voices rather than see hallucinations and these voices are what lead to the delusions. In fact, John Nash actually never saw these hallucinations. However, these hallucinations give the audience insight into what it is like to struggle with schizophrenia so they do serve a purpose in the movie.

Another key event in this scene takes place when John is in a psychiatric hospital. It is in this scene where the audience is exposed to the truly cruel techniques that were used to cure schizophrenia. The psychiatric hospital is all white, in every room and hallway and gives the audience an unsettling feeling about the place. This scene takes place in the 1950s and is reflected in the treatments that were used. It was during this time that new treatments were being developed to attempt to cure schizophrenia, which is shown when John is forced to undergo insulin shock therapy a couple of times a week. The results of this treatment were horrible and eventually were discredited as anti-psychotic drugs were introduced. The introduction of antipsychotic drugs plays a very important role in allowing schizophrenic people to lead normal lives. Also during this scene, the movie makes it seem as if people with schizophrenia only need to spend a short amount of time in the hospital and get medication then return back to normal life. This is also untrue as even John Nash was troubled for multiple decades by his disability and during this extended period of time, he could not do any work. Overall, this chain of events shows a turning point in the movie and helps give insight into not only John Nash’s life but also anyone who deals with schizophrenia.

After watching this movie, analyzing the details of key scenes, and reading multiple online reviews and even reviews from the real John Forbes Nash Jr., I have come to the conclusion that this movie is able to accurately portray the intricacies of schizophrenia to the audience. Although the scenes may not always accurately depict what specifically happened to John Nash, they still portray ideas and facts about schizophrenia. Russell Crowe’s acting was great and helped enlightened the audience about what it is like to go through life with schizophrenia. However, I think John Nash’s case of schizophrenia is very unusual and deviates greatly from what the average schizophrenic individual will encounter. John was able to somehow put his schizophrenia into remission without the use of medication which seems to be something that most experts have not heard of. The movie also incorporated all the correct views and science that was known in the 1950s and 1960’s that helps give the audience an authentic view into what was known about a mental disability like schizophrenia. Overall, I think this movie is a great and accurate example of what is it like to live with schizophrenia and has the ability to educate individuals about what is known about this disability.

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