Psychologists have often debated the pedagogical discourse of mental illness depicted in films. The question that often arises is if the representation of the symptoms of the disorder and medical treatment shown in films is historically correct. This essay analyses A Beautiful Mind (2001), a film about mental disorder, directed by Ron Howard. The film shows a renowned mathematician’s struggle with schizophrenia (Howard, 2001). A Beautiful Mind is a biographical film on the life of Professor John Nash and his tryst with paranoid schizophrenia.
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The main symptom of a schizophrenic patient depicted in the film is the patient’s inability to distinguish between the real world and the subconscious pattern created within the imaginations of his mind. Nash had created vivid delusions in the form of the “prodigal roommate” and his job as a CIA code-breaker. Therefore, the film shows a schizophrenic patient’s inability to distinguish between reality and hallucination. It shows auditory symptoms common among schizophrenic patients coupled with visual delusions.
Nash has mercurial temperament as his emotions oscillate from absolute antipathy to overwhelming joy. Stress is shown as the main reason that triggers the delusional symptoms in schizophrenic patients. Nash shows symptoms of disorganized speech disorder common among schizophrenic patients. When the illness reached an acute stage, Nash showed symptoms of social withdrawal and mood disturbances.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that impairs the activities of the brain, damaging various rational functions (Andreasen, 2000). Schizophrenia is a Greek word meaning the split mind, where ‘split’ implies the dissociation with emotion and thought (Andreasen, 2000). The symptoms of schizophrenia can be divided into two types –positive and negative (Andreasen, 2000). The positive symptoms are the abnormalities in the behavior of the patient, i.e. delusions and hallucinations.
The negative symptoms are mood swings and social withdrawal (Andreasen, 2000). In the case of paranoid schizophrenia, the delusion of grandeur is a common symptom where the patient starts believing in something larger than life. Patients suffering from paranoid schizophrenia are often observed to suffer from delusions with a complex storyline, on the persecution of the wrongdoer. The symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia shown in the movie are correct. The instances of auditory hallucinations, complex delusions, social withdrawal, and stress as a trigger of illusions are the symptoms of the disorder.
The creation of imaginary friends, the complex delusion about the undercover activities, and the inability to distinguish between real and unreal, are beautifully depicted in the film. In the film, John Nash believed that the CIA had recruited him to decipher coded messages during the cold war (Howard, 2001). Clearly, Nash believed that he was the Good Samaritan, working for a greater good. As his delusions advanced, his paranoia and distrust intensified. This is typical behavior of a patient suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. The film has, not only accurately depicted the symptoms and problems of a schizophrenic patient, but has also shown how it can be controlled.
No doubt, the life of a schizophrenic patient will be difficult, as he can no longer think the way a normal human being does, but the film provides hope. The film shows that medication is a short-term method of hallucinations. A better solution is to learn to distrust the irrational. I believe, the film has successfully depicted paranoid schizophrenia and will motivate patients ailing with the disease to cope with the stress of the disorder.
Andreasen, N. C. (2000). Schizophrenia: the fundamental questions. Brain Research Reviews, 31(2), 106-112.
Howard, R. (Director). (2001). A Beautiful Mind [Motion picture on DVD]. USA: Universal Pictures.