A beautiful couple

Today I watched “A Beautiful Mind” in the company of John and Alicia Nash. The occasion was a celebration of John Nash, as part of a larger celebration by the Hampton’s Film Festival of films that focus on science and scientists.

John and Alicia are fascinating people — both brilliant, both very down to earth, and clearly very emotionally connected with one another. It was interesting to hear them talk quietly to each other during the screening, pointing out places where the film got things particularly right or wrong.

All in all I think they have made their peace with the extremely large liberties that Ron Howard and company took in putting their story on screen. For example, in reality John Nash never saw anything that wasn’t there (his hallucinations were entirely auditory), and the chronology of events in the film is rather screwed up. The screenplay also contains a huge number of other factual errors that it would be pointless to enumerate here.

But the spirit of the film has held up well since I last saw it during its initial release. At the core is the fundamental idea that a schizophrenic, if he has the right emotional support, can eventually use reason and logic to figure out which parts of his perceived reality are true, and which originate inside his mind. As Alicia said when we held a panel discussion after the screening, the film is part of an important discussion about how to deal with mental illness.

This evening a man I’d never met came up to me and thanked me for running the session. He said his sister is schizophrenic, and that he has always been inspired by the story of John Nash. I told the man that I was honored to be able to take part in such an event, with two such extraordinary people. And I very much meant it.

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