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A very good documentary, well-paced, balanced and focused on a interesting
The film captures Nash's individuality, and opens a window into his thinking. I wouldn't say that his experience of schizophrenia is typical, but this is not a documentary on schizophrenia, rather it is a portrait of a man whose entire experience of life has been atypical. In this, A Brilliant Madness is a very solid piece of work, in its own right.
However, it is impossible not to view it in relation to Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind. While in some ways this is a bit distracting, it means the film plays out on another level: as a lesson in media manipulation and the power of stigma. Apparently, the makers of A Beautiful Mind felt people could only overcome their feelings about mental illness if the rest of the story was clean cut Americana. (Let's face it, the original ad campaign was meant to deceive people entirely, as to the focus of the film. I know this has been defended as "bringing the audience into Nash's reality", but suspect the motivation may have originated in marketing) A Brilliant Madness reveals much (but not all) of the true complexity of Nash's story, while making all the same anti-stigma points that A Beautiful Mind was lauded for.
I love the message of this documentary, "A Beautiful Madness," which
tells the story of mathematician John Nash: take into account the
thoughts and imagination of those perceived as different; they often
have stunning insights.
The documentary tells the factual story of John Nash, whose story was told in "A Beautiful Mind" starring Russell Crowe. That film, however, took dramatic license - some say too much, as compelling a film as it was.
It's a fascinating look at the mind of genius touched by paranoid schizophrenia which, for a time, stopped his wonderful career. Nash's story is inspiring as well because ultimately he overcomes his problems and succeeds, going on to win the Nobel Prize and resume his career.
It was most interesting to see the interview with Nash which goes through the entire documentary, and to hear both his sons, his colleagues, and his wife speak about him.
Another excellent "American Experience," one of the best.
John Nash, central figure in the feature film "A Beautiful Mind", was
born in 1928 to parents of no particular note and displayed a
fascination with numbers of an intensity that has always eluded me.
After being graduated from Carnegie Tech he was accepted at Princeton,
a hotbed of math inquiry at the time, and completed his doctoral
dissertation on game theory at the age of twenty one. It was really a
breakthrough study -- the Nash Equilibrium -- but its importance wasn't
recognized at the time.
Nash accepted a position at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but quickly suffered what was then called a nervous breakdown and is technically known as paranoid schizophrenia. It's a disabling and extremely painful disease of the brain. There were no antipsychotic drugs available at the time. His behavior became bizarre. He began receiving messages from outer space and having auditory hallucinations in which voices talked about him and criticized him. He was hospitalized at McLean Hospital, a facility for the wealthy and socially prominent where he was treated by psychoanalysts. Psychoanalysis assumes that symptoms are the result of earlier childhood experiences and that getting rid of the symptoms -- the hallucinations and the bizarre behavior -- was just sweeping the REAL problem under the rug. Psychoanalysis may have worked with Sigmund Freud's Viennese patients in 1900 but that was an entirely different cultural milieu.
With the help of friends, he was released and returned to Princeton and a job involving little responsibility but he brought his symptoms with him. His wife, Alicia, divorced him and kept custody of their son, which didn't seem to bother Nash much. Considerably later in life, when Nash appears to have recovered, they were remarried for good. Meantime there was the problem of what to do with a man who believed that he was the Pope and was still receiving interplanetary messages. Since their nest egg was depleted by now, the country club facility at McLean was no longer available. The answer had to be hospitalization at Trenton State, a notorious hell hole then (in the 1950s) and now. He was subjected to insulin therapy, which leaves you comatose for a while and was said to lead to improvement. The film claims that insulin injections were the results of a theory involving the effects of glucose on the brain, but I think they got it backwards, and that a serendipitous injection of insulin on a schizophrenic appeared to improve the symptoms, and the theory was developed later in an attempt to explain the results. In any case it's no longer used.
He was finally released and taken in by Alicia in Princeton. She'd been a physics major at the university but now had a low-level job at a laboratory in order to maintain some sort of cash flow. vegetating for a while and then slowly remitting with no further treatment. By this time he was much over thirty, the age at which mathematicians and physicists tend to burn out. But, to Nash's good fortune, his dissertation on game theory had been discovered as not merely airy but as having serious practical applications in economics and politics. A course in game theory, based on the Nash Equilibrium, is now taught by Robert Schiller at Yale. The course is available free on YouTube. I'd always been curious about game theory because, after all, who can disregard the appeal of words like "minimax" and "maximin"? It took roughly one hour to convince me that my lack of mathematical talent had not deserted me.
Nash's early work had turned out to be monumentally important and he was widely considered deserving of the Nobel Prize in math. Of course the Prize would be given for the Nash Equilibrium which had appeared many years ago but that's not uncommon. Einstein got it for work he'd done in 1905. Stockholm had always worried that if they invited Nash to the very formal ceremony, he would do something crazy, but in view of his spontaneous improvement he was finally designated a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize. He behaved very decorously and looked suitably professorial in his tuxedo. He lived in Princeton with his wife and their son and died a few years ago. His son is schizophrenic too. The disease has a high genetic loading but there must be some sort of environmental trigger too because it's not uncommon for one identical twin to "get it" and the other not.
I've read elsewhere that Nash could be, and was, a lot more nasty than the Nash shown in the film -- anti-Semitic and so on. But, that aside, this is pretty well done, a mixture of interviews, still photos, and newsreel footage, salubriously blended together. A nice job overall.
As a retired history teacher, I am VERY hard on historical films.
Often, I notice how the story in the film and the real life tale
diverge--and family members who see historical films with me are often
regaled with how irritated I am that the film stretches or completely
ignores the truth. I am insufferable in this regard, as I consider
history to be sacred--and I HATE when movies ignore the facts. Heck,
when I was teaching, I would often show films like "Pocahontas"--and
would use it to explain to the kids how the true story is no longer
even recognizable in the film. While "A Beautiful Mind" is not as bad
as this Disney film, it also took huge liberties in portraying the life
of the famous mathematician, John Nash. And because of this, I was VERY
happy to see "A Brilliant Madness"--a documentary that attempts to give
the true story of Nash's life.
I wasn't the least bit surprised that this episode of "The American Experience" was exceptional. After all, the show is almost always exceptional--and the folks who make these shows love history and rarely make obvious mistakes in the narrative. Here, they present a MUCH more balanced view of Nash's life. While it is not exactly a 'warts and all' biography (it doesn't mention his sex life and all his odd behaviors), this isn't a bad thing as there really isn't a need to know EVERY intimate detail. But, the major facts are correct--and I am glad to see it. Well worth seeing and ample proof that you don't need to twist the facts in order to tell a compelling tale. And, the best part about this is that Nash himself gets to talk about his life!
A Brilliant Madness is an excellent documentary on the life of John Nash. It fills in the blanks and shows the true facts of Nash's life in which the details are more compelling and interesting than what was revealed in A Beautiful Mind. A Beautiful Mind was of course a great movie to show cinematically how schizophrenia can affect someone even as brilliant as Nash. A Brilliant Madness discusses things like the child he had with an earlier girlfriend and then abandoning them. Also his trips wandering Europe asking to give up his US citizenship. Most interesting was that they left out of A Beautiful Mind that his wife divorced him and then remarried decades later. If you liked A Beautiful Mind, I highly recommend seeing A Brilliant Madness. Both films compliment each other well.
This video treatment of John Nash's story is compelling and fascinating, and that would be enough by itself, but what makes it so much more interesting is how different it is from the story told in A Beautiful Mind. The differences are often so marked, that the story told in this film is overshadowed by them. Now I am not sure what to believe: was there a nonexistent roommate named Paul Betanny or is he a figment of a screenwriter's dementia? In this telling, there weren't even voices until after a second institutionalization. The game of "go" in the Howard film was, in what may be actual fact, a game using "go" pieces that was referred to as "Nash" at Princeton, and one can easily guess who actually was master of that game. It's understandable that folks would want to present a tidy story with development and all the other elements that we like in a film, but the story presented in A Brilliant Madness, while not quite so flashy in the hallucination area, is much more interesting, and the human dynamics presented are more complex and finally more believable. An hour well-spent, this.
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