I decided to use the format of Reel Faces to answer some questions for my most damning example of Hollywood tinkering with history, A Beautiful Mind. I offered this to Kevin Lang, the author of "Reel Faces" and he said he would "try to remember" to give me credit when it's done. Which doesn't exactly fill me with confidence. So here it is.
Q: Was John Nash as cocky and arrogant as he was in the movie?
A: Yes. In fact, many people who worked with Nash disliked him, even before his mental breakdown. They found him arrogant, egotistical, and insensitive, but tolerated him because of his mathematical genius.
Q: Was the portrayal of Nash's delusions in the movie accurate?
A: No. The storyline of a Communist conspiracy to smuggle a nuclear bomb into the U.S. was made up for the movie in order to capture the spirit of his delusions. In real-life, Nash's delusions were even less logical and more chaotic than the movie version.Nash's mental breakdown through schizophrenia didn't truly develop until the 1960s, after he had graduated from Princeton (no phantom roommate) and married Alicia Nash. At the height of his madness, Nash believed that aliens were sending him encrypted messages through the New York Times, and that any man wearing a red necktie was a member of a secret international communist organization. He claimed to colleagues that he was the Pope and the emperor of Antarctica, and feared the government was working with extraterrestrials to destroy his reputation. At some point, he developed a messianic complex and thought he was a messenger from God. Nash eventually came to believe he was on a holy mission to come up with a mystical number that would prove the existence of God.
Nash says he does not recall seeing any visual hallucinations, but heard voices that mocked and argued with him constantly. At times, Nash thought the voices were coming from aliens or angels. Nash would make phone calls to family and colleagues using false names and have rambling conversations about numerology and conspiracies that they would endure until he hung up.
Q: Did Nash stay at home after his first stay in the mental institution, trying to compose new formulas?
A: No. Nash actually left the country after his first release from the mental hospital and wandered Europe for months, declaring himself a refugee and trying to renounce his U.S. citizenship. While there, he mailed postcards containing nonsensical stories and numerical formulas to his old workmates. His wife eventually worked with the State Department to have Nash deported back to the United States.
Q: Was John Nash allowed to return to Princeton, despite his mental illness?
A: Yes. But unlike in the movie, Nash was a more mysterious and disturbing figure on campus. Nash became an almost mythical figure to the students, who called him "the Phantom." He would leave secret codes and mathematical formulas on blackboards and on papers shoved under the doors of teachers, and wander the campus in red sneakers, murmuring to himself.
Q: Was his wife's love and Nash's logic the key to his recovery?
A: No. The reasons for Nash's recovery are a matter of debate. Nash did indeed stop taking his anti-psychotic medication, and never did take any medication again. Nash claims that it was his logical mind that allowed his recovery. The truth is that many people age out of schizophrenia on their own over time.
Q: Was the love story between John Nash and his wife Alicia truly as beautiful as in the movie?
A: No. In reality, Nash was already involved with another woman and had fathered a son out of wedlock with her when he met his current wife, Alicia. She was a student in his class, and they did marry and have a son together, but his illness drove them apart. Unlike in the movie, Nash deeply resented Alicia for having him involuntarily committed. Upon his release, Nash withdrew from her emotionally and sexually. After three years of enduring his mania, Alicia divorced Nash in 1962 and began a new relationship with another man. She continued to help and support Nash as a friend rather than a husband. She even let him stay in her home to keep Nash from becoming homeless, but thought of him as a boarder; they lived separate lives under the same roof. Their romantic relationship was only restarted after Nash won the Nobel Prize. She remarried him in 2001, well after his mental illness had already subsided.
Q: Was a man sent by the Nobel Prize committee to check whether Nash was stable enough to award the prize?
A: Yes. Jörgen Weibull was an economics professor sent by the committee to meet with Nash. He did interview Nash and the moment when Nash initially resisted going into the Princeton faculty lounge did happen. In fact, Weibull cited Nash's hesitation as the reason he recommended Nash be given the prize; it showed an obscurity and insecurity on Nash's part that Weibull felt demanded to be corrected.
Q: Was there a moment where Nash was honored by Princeton faculty by their lying their pens in front of him at his table?
A: No. No such ceremony has ever existed at Princeton.
Q: Was John Nash's acceptance speech for his Nobel Prize the same as in the movie?
A: No. In fact, Nash was not allowed to give an acceptance speech at the Nobel award ceremony because they were afraid he was too unstable. He did give a speech afterwards at a party at Princeton, but it was not the one given in the movie. According to his biographer, Nash mainly made jokes about how he hoped the award would improve his credit rating.
* Lycos: John Nash
* Free Info Society: John Nash
* John Nash's Autobiography for the Nobel Prize
* PBS: A Brilliant Madness
* CBS: Beautiful Mind No White Wash