Review of Ron Howard’s Film, A Beautiful Mind

Categories: A Beautiful Mind

This paper will discuss the psychopathology that is present in the movie: A Beautiful Mind. A Beautiful Mind is about protagonist John Nash, a renowned mathematician that suffers from schizophrenia. This disorder is depicted throughout the entirety of this film as it showcases how it manifested and how he eventually overcame it. It explains what psychopathology is as well as the definition of the disorder schizophrenia and some criteria to meet that diagnosis. It will be shown that John has schizophrenia by analyzing two of the criteria that he possesses for the disorder, which are hallucinations and delusions.

Through three of the scenes in the film, you will see how schizophrenia is taking over John’s life in the form of less interpersonal connections and violent or harmful episodes. The manifestation of John’s disorder does not get in the way of his achievements in mathematics. Also discussed are the positive and negative portrayals made by the film on both John and schizophrenia itself as a mental illness.

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This film is one that really opens the viewer’s eyes and shows a taste of what is experienced by millions of Americans every day.

Psychopathology is referred to as the study of any syndrome, disease, or disorder that impairs an individual’s ability to function normally in conjunction with society (Learner). The mental illnesses associated with the ones studied in psychopathology range from depression all the way to schizophrenia. The movie A Beautiful Mind is an adaptation based on the book about the personal life of John F.

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Nash Jr. — a genius mathematician who developed theories that revolutionized mathematics and game theory. Although an intellectual and innovator in his field, he expressed symptoms of schizophrenia in his twenties. This disorder affected his life in every way from his interpersonal relationships to his daily routines. This paper will analyze three specific scenes in the movie where schizophrenia was a main focus of the dialogue and theme, as well as an analysis of the disorder as well as John’s diagnosis.


Schizophrenia is a brain disease that results in disturbances in human functioning. These disturbances deal with thought, perception, language and emotions (DSM-5, 2013). The word schizophrenia was introduced for the first time in 1910 and it literally translates to “split mind,” where “schizo” means split and “phren” means mind in Greek (Burton). This definition of the word refers to the dual reality experienced by those affected with the disorder. People with schizophrenia deal with both reality and illusions of reality within their lives. Schizophrenia impacts about 1% of people hitting men and women equally (Shizo.) Men tend to suffer a little early and suffer from more negative symptoms, which may be caused by the disorder impacting them earlier in their life. Women have a later onset and generally have a better prognosis than men because they’ve lived their lives in a relatively normal manner and are much more established and have more experiences under their belt. This can lead to woman’s life not being interrupted or disrupted so early by the disorder. The one percent of individuals that suffer from this disorder can start showing symptoms at a very early age, but the general age for diagnosis is around an individual’s twenties. Research has shown that the more closely related you are to someone who suffers, the higher the chances are that you are too obtain the disorder (Schizo.) Research has also shown that schizophrenia may be associated with pregnancy and birth complications. There has been a positive correlation between mothers that had issues with circulation, which for a fetus could be harmful as it could impact the amount of blood and/or oxygen getting to the fetus may be impacted. Going off this, the hypoxia during delivery can also be a risk factor (Schizo).


The criteria for schizophrenia includes five symptoms, out of which more than one must be present in the individual over a course of six months in order to become diagnosed with the disorder (DSM-5, 2013). The five symptoms that are a basis for the diagnosis of schizophrenia are:

  1. Delusions
  2. Hallucinations
  3. Disorganized Speech
  4. Disorganized catatonic behavior
  5. <

  6. Negative Symptoms

There are two categories of symptoms for schizophrenia. One category is symptoms that are considered to be positive. Positive symptoms can be interpreted as things that people that do not suffer from mental illness have but distorted. Under the positive symptom category are two symptoms: delusions and hallucinations (DSM-5). Delusions can be defined as false beliefs that are firmly held, meaning that the individual suffering from the delusions is under the impression that something is real even if it defies any sort of logic. Delusions also contrast reality, as the individual sees things that can be viewed as distorted reality. People who suffer also resist any sort of evidence that disconfirms the delusion. There are a few types of delusions: grandiose, outside control, persecutory, and ideas of reference. An example of a grandiose delusion would be if someone were under the impressions that they were Jesus. Outside control delusions are when someone feels like their thoughts and someone else, as if someone is inserting thoughts into the individual’s head and making them think those things are controlling their actions. Persecutory delusions can be defined as when the individual thinks that there is someone out to get them, meaning that they are a target and that there is a looming threat (DSM-5).

The other type of positive symptom is hallucinations. Hallucinations can be defined as sensory experiences in the absence of sensory stimulation (DSM-5). There are a few types of hallucinations: auditory, visual, tactile, and olfactory. Auditory hallucinations are generally negative, commonly perceived to be the voices that the individual hears in their head.

Another category of symptoms for schizophrenia is negative symptoms, which are more biologically mediated and are generally a result of loss of normal functioning. These people suffer from incoherencies, meaning they say words that make sense individually and as a whole it does not make sense. They suffer from avolition which can be defined as a lack of interest in doing things that are pleasurable, or demonstrating apathy. They also lack the ability to form close relationships with others, as they have lost interest in being amongst other people, which can also be labeled as asociality. They also lack the ability to experience pleasure, both consummatory and anticipatory. The overarching term for this is anhedonia. Another negative symptom is blunted affect. This means that there is no body language or facial expression, thus making it difficult to tell how the individual feels as there is no emotion present in their voice or body. Related to blunted affect is alogia, which is reduction in speech, resulting in the individual expressing themselves minimally, if at all (DSM-5). A major category of negative symptoms is disorganization, which results in disorganized behavior, thought disorder, and catatonic behavior. Disorganized behavior can be easily observed as it can be viewed, for example, the individual goes to baseball game in a prom dress. They have thought disorder, which is just when their thoughts are disorganized, and it is very hard to communicate with them because they talk and either lack a central focus or they are making up words that don’t exist, respectively termed derailment, word salad, and neologism. This makes it very hard on the schizophrenic, as they are unable to communicate with the outside world. Lastly, they suffer from catatonic behavior, which is when the individual chooses to stay in an uncomfortable position for hours on end. The most interesting thing about catatonic behavior is that the individual chooses this position on purpose (DSM-5).

In A Beautiful Mind, John Nash is the protagonist that is living with schizophrenia. If the DSM-5 is compared to the mannerisms and symptoms that are portrayed in the film, then it will prove that statement.


In A Beautiful Mind, John Nash suffered from two positive symptoms—hallucinations and delusions. Specifically he suffered from delusions of grandeur, thinking that he was a top class government agent set with the task of having to save millions of lives by finding a code that was found in articles. It contrasted reality because he had a giant shed lined with newspaper articles that had been analyzed to fit some code he had created in his head that was to represent communication between spies. He may also have suffered from outside control delusions as he had claimed that there was a chip inserted into his blood stream that was making him act a certain way. He also suffered from persecutory delusions, as John was under the impression that he and his country were a target and that he was the only one who had the power to overcome the threat and save everyone. John also suffered extremely from hallucinations, as he had hallucinations of almost each kind—auditory, visual, tactile, and olfactory. He saw, conversed, and was friendly with three individuals that didn’t exist who went by the names of Charles, Parcher and Marcee. Charles was a fictional hallucination that he had for many years, beginning with him being his roommate and then becoming his best friend. Parcher was a secret government agent who employed John to go on a mission to crack codes from everyday things like newspapers in order to save everyone. Parcher was also a hallucination, which affected John’s life in a negative way with his relationship with his wife. Based on that mission enacted by Parcher, John almost let his baby drown. Lastly, John would see Marcee, who is a hallucination of Charles, who was also a hallucination. There was no real purpose for Marcee being there, except to keep Charles company.

John Nash fits into two of the five categories that would diagnose an individual to have the disorder of schizophrenia, due to the delusions and hallucinations. Since he has more than one symptom required as well as a period of more than six months with those symptoms. Thus it is conclusive to say that John suffers from schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia in the Film

The film has various moments where the schizophrenia that John Nash experiences is portrayed. Below are three of them.

Desk Scene

The desk scene in the beginning of the film is very critical to the development of the movie. In this scene John is going through very intense emotions, having just been rejected a placement and basically told he was not good enough to receive one. Thus comes in Charles. Charles is a fictional character that was created as a symptom of his schizophrenia. In this scene he can be portrayed as an antagonist. John is frantic and anxious over his project not going according to plan and being inconclusive. Charles suddenly pops up putting very negative thoughts into John’s head, saying he’s worthless, thus encouraging him to do very out of character, unacceptable things like throw a desk out the window. The reason as to why this scene is critical is because it shows the schizophrenia becoming strong and his reality basically deteriorating and ultimately how severely his mental health had been impacted by schizophrenia.

Here John is having an intense hallucination, which he cannot distinguish from reality. Parcher is a government agent that says John is the “best natural code breaker I have ever seen.” John sees Parcher as if he were right in front of him in a room in some military base. Parcher tells John that he will need to implant a device in his arm that will help him in his mission to decipher any code or correlations he sees in the news (Grazer).

Bathtub Scene

In the bathtub scene John has not been taking his medication for his disorder. He tells his wife Alicia that he can wash the baby by himself and she looks at him worried but then agrees and goes outside to hang some laundry on the clothesline. John puts the baby in the bottom of the bathtub and then turns on the hot water and leaves the baby there and walks away, all while talking to himself aloud. Thankfully his wife Alicia notices a strange radio sound coming from a shed in the woods next to where she is hanging clothes to dry. She investigates the noise and when she opens the door, to her horror, she sees the walls of the shed covered in newspaper clippings and rubber bands attached with tacks connecting similar stories together like a conspiracy of some kind. She quickly runs up to the bathroom and finds that John is closing the bedroom window and saying “I’m almost done, Charles you just wash the baby.” and the baby is still in the tub with the water all the way up to the bottom of its nose. She grabs the baby, dries it with a towel and John comes in and says, “Charles was watching him, he’s okay”, to which Alicia screams “ There’s no one here!” John finally replies with “He’s been injected with a cloaking serum, I can see him because of the chemicals released into my bloodstream when the implant dissolved (Grazer).”

In this scene, John is hallucinating because he thinks that Charles is watching the baby. His hallucination becomes a delusion after his wife expresses that Charles is not there, and John tries to give a explanation that defies reality as to his presence there and why his wife cannot see Charles. Also, the fact that John is not on his medication for his schizophrenic symptoms and that this scene happens, means that it interferes with his life and that he should be taking the medication again.

Schizophrenic Depiction in the film: Positives and Negatives

Through the duration of A Beautiful Mind, I actively focused on the five symptoms for the criteria to diagnose someone with schizophrenia, and I would make a note every time I saw an instance of that in the film for John. The film shows a rise of schizophrenia in a talented, clever, and intuitive individual and how it impacted his relationships, career and life. There are both positives and negatives in terms of the portrayal of John’s character in A Beautiful Mind.


A positive aspect of the film that really stood out to me was that it brought awareness to a broad and big audience who watched the movie about what schizophrenia is. The movie also did a great job of showing that John was a true genius from the beginning, making the audience awe at his ambitions and eventual achievements. He made a discovery that revolutionized the field of mathematics with his differential equations. At the very end of the movie John is accepting his Noble Prize of Economics based on his revolutionary game theory. The movie depicts him in that very scene as a very humble and loving husband who dedicates the whole speech to his lovely supportive wife (Grazer).


A portrayal that was done in the movie that was negative was one of violence in schizophrenia. There was one scene in the beginning of the film when John was arguing with Charles and Charles was telling him to kill himself, so to combat that stress, John threw his desk out of the seconds story window. In reality most people with schizophrenia are non-violent. This depiction puts schizophrenics in a negative light when it comes to behavior and overall interconnectedness with society to the point where most need to be admitted into a mental psychiatric hospital like John. The scenes where John was screaming and shouting at his hallucinations in front of other people and causing a scene was another moment where he was not in his best portrayal.


A Beautiful Mind, was a biographical and visual representation of John Nash’s life and accomplishments, all which detailing his battle and struggle with schizophrenia. A genius and intellectual in mathematics, he revolutionized differential equations as well as the fields of economics, biology, and others such as military. Although he had a lot of academic success and praise, even earning him the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1994, his mental illness did a lot of damage to his personal life. Experiencing years of hallucinations and delusions, which included people and objectives that never existed, he would be diagnosed with schizophrenia. After medication, John would start behaving normally and being aware that his hallucinations were no longer reality, but a part of his disorder. The representation of John’s schizophrenia was shocking and intriguing at the same time, and it really gave the audience a feel for how someone with the disease could behave in actuality. Although it was an adaptation from the book taken to the big screen, A Beautiful Mind did everything right. I hope others will watch this movie and understand that schizophrenia is an illness that needs to be eradicated.

Updated: Feb 22, 2024
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Review of Ron Howard’s Film, A Beautiful Mind. (2024, Feb 23). Retrieved from

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