In Meditations for People in Crisis, Paul Brunton writes: "Neither suffering love nor joy alone can educate your heart and develop your mind in the right way. Both are needed." This compelling and thoroughly engaging film, inspired by events in the life of mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., certainly proves that point.
Nash was told by his second grade teacher that he had been given two helpings of brain but only one helping of heart. And so he goes through most of life not liking people and feeling they don't care much about him either. All that changes when he is forced to deal with mental illness and rely upon the tender ministrations of his wife Alicia and the kindness of others.
The questions and exercises in this discussion guide are organized around some of the themes of this drama intellect, human relationships, genius, schizophrenia, marriage, the hatching of a heart, and beauty.
A Beautiful Mind runs 120 minutes and is rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, sexual content, and a scene of violence. For our review of the film and a plot synopsis, click here.
1. DON'T MAKE THE INTELLECT GOD
"We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality," Albert Einstein wrote in Out of My Life.
- What are your impressions of Nash in the opening third of the film while he's attending graduate school at Princeton? How would you describe his attitude toward intellect his own and that of others?
- Do you consider yourself a head person? If so, what major challenges have you faced by placing so much emphasis upon the intellect? What role has your mind played in your spiritual life?
2. DANGER IN HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS
"There is no way to take the danger out of human relationships," Barbara G. Harrison has observed.
- What scenes in the drama best illustrate Nash's underdeveloped social skills? How does he describe himself in relationship to other people?
- Are you a "people person"? Does the danger in human relationships excite or terrify you? In what ways has your spirituality changed your perception of others?
"That which we call genius has a great deal to do with courage and daring, a great deal to do with nerve . . . unexplored spaces do not frighten them as much as they frighten those around them," self-esteem writer Nathaniel Branden has written.
- Which of Nash’s character qualities would you say are the “up side” of his genius? Share your response to the Robert Oppenheimer quotation in the film where genius is defined as "the answer before the question."
- Have you ever known any geniuses? What were they like? Marsha Sinetar as well as Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall have written books about spiritual intelligence, which they connect with meaning, value, and moral sense. How is your spiritual I.Q.? Who are the spiritual geniuses who have spoken to you in their writings or seminars?
4. THE DECEPTIVE NATURE OF SCHIZOPHRENIA
In The Eden Express, which recounts his battle with schizophrenia, Mark Vonnegut has written: "Every time my head cleared for as much as ten minutes, I believed myself completely cured and ready to take on the world . . . a lot of that is due to the deceptive nature of schizophrenia. One day you're fine and the next you're clutching your knees trying to hold on."
- What is the scariest part of the mental illness of schizophrenia? When in the drama does Nash become most touching as a human being struggling to regain a measure of himself?
- What insights has this film given you into the symptoms and treatment of schizophrenia, the stigma associated with it, and the challenges of caring for a schizophrenic?
"A marriage," David Reuben has noted, "is like a long trip in a tiny row boat; if one passenger starts to rock the boat, the other has to steady it; otherwise they will go to the bottom together."
- What is the source of the initial attraction between Alicia and John? What is your favorite scene in their romance? Why? How would you describe the role Alicia assumes in the marriage after her husband is diagnosed with schizophrenia?
- Who rocks the boat in your marriage or partnership? who keeps it steady? What character qualities are most needed for this task?
6. THE HATCHING OF A HEART
"The heart needs to be opened," Marcus J. Borg writes in The God We Never Knew. "To use a favorite metaphor, spirituality is for the hatching of the heart."
- What events or realizations enable John to open his heart?
- Cite some spiritual experiences that have opened your heart or softened it. Who has played a major role in hatching your heart?
7. THE ONLY LASTING BEAUTY
"The only lasting beauty," Jelaluddin Rumi proclaimed, "is the beauty of the heart."
- What do you learn about the beauty of the heart in the nonverbal interplay between John and Alicia during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech?
- What has John Nash's journey from a beautiful mind to a beautiful heart taught you about love?
This guide is one in a series of more than 200 Values & Visions Guides written by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Text copyright 2001 by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. Photos courtesy of Universal Pictures. This guide is posted as a service to visitors to www.SpiritualityandPractice.com. It may not be photocopied, reprinted, or distributed electronically without permission from Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat except it may be duplicated for use by groups participating in the e-course "Going to the Movies as a Spiritual Practice." For other uses and for a list of guides in the Values & Visions series and ordering information, email your name and mailing address to: firstname.lastname@example.org.