Showing posts with label film review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label film review. Show all posts

Saturday, 22 June 2013

A Beautiful Mind - Insights into the human state

I recently watched "A Beautiful Mind", which was a movie I had been recommended many times. The basic story of the film is this (I think it is well worth watching before I ruin it for you - so I alert you that spoilers are imminent): John Nash arrives as a young student at Princeton graduate school as a mathematics scholarship joint-winner. He is rather odd, quite a bit full of himself and extremely determined to make a name in the mathematics world. He is awkward and far too forward in social situations, saying things like "I don't much like people - and people don't much like me," to his far more social room-mate Charlie. Whilst some of his companions are eyeing some girls in a bar, he makes his famous breakthrough, the concept of "Nash equilibrium." This grants him a great deal of prestige, and he gets tenure at MIT researching and lecturing in mathematics. At this point in time he meets a woman, who becomes his wife, named Alicia. His prowess is called upon by the Pentagon where he breaks a code with stunning speed. A quite covert man, William, approaches Nash soon after and explains to him that he must help the US from a hydrogen bomb attack from a wayward Soviet military group, who have encrypted their messages in newspapers and periodicals - their hope is that Nash can crack the codes and save many lives. He works on this for a while, becoming more engrossed in his work than ever, when one day as he is delivering his most recent breakthroughs at a letterbox drop-point, his boss races in, takes in him a car and saves him with a car chase involving firing of guns much danger.

Nash becomes more and more paranoid, but he has to keep everything secret as his work is classified. Eventually, psychiatrists stop him after his presentation of some work in mathematics at Harvard, and the plot begins to unravel rapidly from here. Nash tries to flee thinking the psychiatrists work for the Russians, but it becomes clear to the viewer that Nash's mind has broken. These are people legitimately trying to help him. Furthermore, the viewer begins to see, slowly, that his work for the government (in particular his secretive boss William), his room-mate (Charlie) and a little girl Marcee who was supposedly the niece of Charlie are revealed to be delusions of Nash's mind. He is put under medication, but this sedates him excessively, and he is unable to effectively be a person - his marital relations in particular take a dive, and great tensions arise. When he stops taking his medication for a short while, the delusions come back, and after what appears to be a few weeks his wife discovers an old shed with newspaper cuttings plastered all over the walls, runs back to their home and saves their child from drowning as Nash is distracted by an attack of paranoia.

Nash at this point suddenly clicks that what the doctor said must be right, because the figures of his imagination had not aged a single hour in all the time since he started at Princeton. Alicia and John Nash resist attempts to continue on medication after remembering how bad their functioning was, and slowly John manages to ignore his imagined persons, although they follow him around and try and counsel him at times. He is honoured with the Nobel Prize in economics, and at the end he gives a very short acceptance speech directed straight at Alicia in gratitude for her support.

My synopsis is no substitute at all for the move - I heartily recommend it. I wanted to make a few comments about it, because certain themes display great truths, I think:

I was from the very beginning sympathetic to John Nash. To some degree, I identify with him most because he has a passion for mathematics as I do, and a certain difficulty with social interactions, also like me. I am not nearly as bad as he is, but they do drain me immensely. As the movie progressed, and once it was revealed that Nash was struggling with schizophrenia, I felt a deep pity for the man, and I heartily showed pity for the man's poor mental state. I was very quick to forgive his almost violent actions towards his wife, because from his point of view, he was being protective of her and their son from the cold and military William, even if it did almost result in harm to both of them. His mental condition, in addition to a certain resonance of his character, went a long way in helping me understand and justify his actions.

Consider for a moment what we look like from God's point of view. Are we these dark and infernal beings? No, that is not how God sees us. When God looks upon our dire state, I think he sees our broken condition first and foremost. I think he is moved with enormous sympathy for how inhumane we have become, paranoid about fabrications of our society or caught up in empty pursuits. There is something horribly gone wrong in our lives and in our minds, and God is moved with sorrow.

As the movie reached its end, it became clear exactly who these people that he had invented were. His room-mate Charlie was the best friend he didn't know how to have. His military boss William granted him work which gave his life and intellect proper honour, recognition and meaning. The invented niece Marcee, a girl of about seven years old offers him immense affection and is always extraordinarily excited to see John and give him a hug. These were not mere fabrications - they were his mind giving John Nash what he sought, what his heart felt he needed, the fulfilment of his innermost longings. Friendship, recognition and being the object of such infinite tenderness and affection were deep down what he was really after, so his mind made them up for him.

As a human being, perhaps the most important thing I learnt is how to see people as broken-yet-noble. With such a mindset, I think it is possible to have a Christian humanism - one where the human is worthy of dignity, respect, sympathy and love, but still faulty in some way and not fully capable of fixing themselves. The solution in the film is much like the solution in real life: there, his wife Alicia showed supernatural love and steadfastness, holding on to John in the worst and best of times. She cares for him, nurtures him and looks after him throughout their married life. She shows him a sort of humanity that he could only imagine figments of; she ends up giving him more friendship than Charlie, more recognition than William and more affection than Marcee. Someone from outside the depravity of this human condition needed to step in to bring Nash to fullness.

If it is true, however, that we are all broken to some degree, it is understandable that we should falter. Nobody in the world could have faulted Alicia for having left John at some of the scarier times - and in reality, it is only Christ who is the true steadfast lover of humanity. In him, the fullness of the divine love is revealed bodily, but Christ the man loves also with a human heart, weeping for us as for his native Jerusalem as seen in the gospels, moved with pity for the lowness that we impose on each other and angered when those who are meant to be doing God's will become like thieves in the temple. It is Christ who sticks by us and helps heal our brokenness - it is then also Christ that affirms us in our weakness, encourages us to new heights and lavishes us with the great depths of divine love, bringing us peace, the great shalom, that is otherwise unattainable.

You see, the view of Christian humanism is this: that we humans are worthy of the highest dignity, of the highest respect and value. Yet we are still broken, and need something or someone to heal us of our dire state. As I see it, too many philosophies nowadays centre too much on how great humankind is that they ignore the faultiness, or too much on the brokenness and omit the supreme dignity. In John Nash, this film shows this exact point - the dignity and soul of his person, yet with the corruption in need of redemption.