“You know the nightmare in schizophrenia is not knowing what’s true. Imagine, if you had suddenly learned that the people and the places and the moments most important to you were not gone, not dead but worse, had never been. What kind of hell would that be?” (Dr. Rosen to Alicia, in the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’)

Synopsis. ‘A Beautiful Mind’ tells the story of a brilliant and socially aloof American mathematician, John Nash, whose mind was of great service to humanity and at the same time, a melting pot of madness. 

Symptoms. Nash suffered from schizophrenia – a disorder characterized by disturbances in thought, emotion, behaviour and perception. The symptoms of this disorder can be divided into three categories – positive, negative and disorganized. (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

Positive Symptoms. These include excesses and distortions like hallucinations and delusions (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Nash was a victim of two kinds of delusions (fixed firm false beliefs). The first was that of grandiosity that was reflected in an exaggerated sense of his importance, in terms of the knowledge he withheld; an arrogant and pompous Nash was often seen working for days in the library, at the cost of his personal hygiene and health. He was depicted living under the pressure of coming up with an “original idea” in mathematics because this was all he knew and failing at this would mean that he did not matter. Because of the power of ingenious mind, he believed that he had a prime role to play in diffusing the Soviet Bomb planted on American soil, he believed this to be his secret mission. Another delusion he suffered from was that of persecution wherein he believed that others were always out to get him, to harm him for his role in diffusing the bomb – “Everytime a car fires or a door slams” (I get scared) is what he tells William Parcher in the movie. 

Hallucinations are sensory experiences in the absence of any external stimuli (except in the case of functional & reflex hallucinations) (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). In the movie, Nash is depicted as having hallucinations in the following sensory modalities – visual (he would see a Department of Defence Officer named William Parcher, his “prodigal roommate” at Princeton University named Charles Hermann and his niece, Marcee), auditory (he would hear the previously mentioned visual hallucinations talk to him), tactile (Nash is seen drinking alcohol from a flask that Charles offers him or hugging Marcee) & gustatory (Nash is seen coughing after he takes a sip of alcohol from Charles’s flask).

Negative Symptoms. These comprise of deficits – avolition, alogia, anhedonia, blunted affect and asociality (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). In the movie, Nash displays blunted affect (lack of outward expression of emotion) when he is holding his crying baby in his arms. Asociality (impairments in social relationships) is depicted when Nash withdraws not only from his friends (Sol, Bender and Hansen) but also from his own wife, Alicia. He is mostly found sitting idle. He was depicted not to be suffering from a poverty of speech (alogia). His avolition (lack of motivation and a seeming absence of interest in or an inability to persist in what are usually routine activities, including work or school or hobbies or social activities) could be seen in him withdrawing himself from his role at Princeton, mostly keeping to himself at home. Disorganized Symptoms. These can take two forms, in speech and behaviour (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).. In the case of Nash, disorganised behaviour was evident in the manner in which he hoarded periodicals, newspapers and magazines, suspecting that these contained codes that could help him break open Soviet communication regarding the bomb. He would plaster entire walls with pages containing circled alphabets, from these; this behaviour seemed bizarre to his wife and colleagues.

In the next part, we’ll be discussing the etiology and treatment of schizophrenia. Stay tuned!