“A Beautiful Mind” Psychology Analysis

“A Beautiful Mind”, starring Russell Crowe is a psychological drama that details the real-life experiences of brilliant mathematician John Forbes Nash. A prodigy student at Princeton University, Nash was able to do Nobel Prize Winning work as a student. In addition, John Nash is a paranoid schizophrenic.

The movie outlines his brilliance as a mathematician, which led him to teaching. The movie outlines his romantic relationship with his student, the future Alicia Nash. At the same time, John Nash became involved in what seems like a secret government code-breaking operation.

John Nash eventually cracks. The government work he believed he was doing was a product of his schizophrenia, and Nash was institutionalized. Eventually he was released after discovering that his college roommate, and best friend, Charles, was also a product of his delusions. When released, he was heavily medicated.

Eventually recognized and given his deserved Nobel Prize, the main point of the movie is how Nash was able to use his incredible mind to regain control of his normally debilitating mental disorder. This is certainly illustrated at the end of the film, when Nash asks “Charles” why the niece he frequently has with him never aged.

Keeping in mind this is a true story, this is clear proof that John Nash was able to overcome his diagnosis of schizophrenia, which is absolutely correct, and very apparent throughout John Nash’s experiences throughout the film.

John Nash perfectly fits the DSM criteria for a paranoid schizophrenic. With specific reference to Criterion A symptoms, in which only one is necessary, Nash exhibits three very clearly. He clearly has delusions, one symptom, as well as hallucinations and disorganized speech, two other symptoms (DNA Learning Center, 2013).

Looking now at Criterion B for schizophrenia, John Nash certainly exhibits this behavior as well. It cites that the disturbances in behavior interfere with interpersonal relationships such as work, romantic, or self-care. This is very apparent in John Nash’s behavior throughout the film (DNA Learning Center, 2013).

The DSM criteria for schizophrenia in section C, deals with the duration of the symptoms. They determine that a patient must experience the above symptoms for at least six months. John Nash’s hallucinations clearly lasted for years in his experiences with Charles, so naturally he fits perfectly (DNA Learning Center, 2013).

.           Being that the film was a realistic portrayal of John Nash, the movie very accurately portrayed schizophrenia as a whole. More specifically, Nash was portrayed as a classic paranoid schizophrenic, and Russell Crowe played this role perfectly.

John Nash received a number of different treatments throughout the movie. After receiving regular ECT treatments after his initial psychotic break, he was prescribed medication that left him heavily sedated. The medication itself is never listed, but judging by the effects portrayed and the time period, it was most likely Lithium, the first and still used treatment for schizophrenia,

As is very typical with schizophrenics, once Nash had a grasp on reality he began to stop taking his medication. This, in turn, caused yet another psychotic break, causing more ECT treatments, and more medication.

The amount of ECT used on John Nash was considered standard treatment for most Bipolar and Schizophrenic patients of the time, especially those with paranoid delusions. Though these treatments are still used today, the ethics behind them have frequently been questioned, as has their effectiveness as a management tool, rather than an actual treatment. It is only John Nash’s incredible mind that allowed him to remain as intelligent as he was after the treatments–most at the time were left as zombies, unable to have any cognitive brain function at all.

The heavy doses of psychiatric medication prescribed to John Nash was also very typical of the time period. Again, the medication was never mentioned by name, but was probably a combination of Lithium and any number of medications known as “typical antipsychotics”, such as Haldol. His sedation was very apparent when he was on these medications, and this is a very accurate depiction of the side effects of both the medications and the ECT treatment itself.

The impact John Nash’s psychiatric disorder had on his family members, and even his peers, was very apparent throughout the depiction of Nash’s psychiatric break, and subsequent “rise from the ashes”.  The social consequences spanned from his work to his home life.

There was a scene in the film where John Nash was supposed to be watching his child in the bathtub. This was after he went off of his psychiatric medication. He experienced a delusion of his seemingly government handler, and became distracted. His wife came just in time to rescue the baby from drowning. This directly led to one of his sessions in a mental institution. Not only did this almost result in the death of his child, it almost completely destroyed his marriage as well.

John Nash also had a psychotic breakdown while on the campus of Princeton University, after he requested use of their library. He was granted permission, and at first was treated with apprehension, before gradually assimilating, and tutoring graduate students for free. Unfortunately, one day Charles decided to show up while he was on the campus, after he spent so much time rebuilding his reputation–and John Nash was again discredited.

Eventually, John Nash had a conversation with Charles in the movie. It was depicted that he simply used his logic to determine that Charles’ niece had never aged in the amount of time he had known her. This led him to telling Charles he knew for sure that he was not real, and that he would no longer be acknowledging either of them as real people.

Overall, “A Beautiful Mind” shows a very heartwarming and accurate story of the life of John Nash, and the adversity he had to face his entire life dealing with schizophrenia. Throughout all of his ECT treatments, medications, and doctors, John Nash was able to beat his disease using his aptly termed “beautiful mind”, calling modern psychiatric into question. Do all patients need the same treatment, or should patients be treated more individually? John Nash’s mind was almost destroyed by something meant to preserve.

John Nash should make every psychiatrist reevaluate any patient recommended for ECT treatments–and all of the pros and cons closely scrutinized–before risking a treatment that is truly irreversible.


Butcher, James. “Abnormal Psychology”. 14th ed. 2012.

“DSM-IV Criteria for Schizophrenia :: DNA Learning Center.” DNALC Blogs. N.p., n.d.           Web. 20 Apr. 2013. <        Schizophrenia.html>.