Friday, March 18, 2005

something beautiful...i think!

submitted this as a film review for my sped201 class back in 2002...

Aside from trying to figure out the mathematical explanation for how bad a friend’s tie appeared to be, John Forbes Nash Jr also managed to flush 150 years worth of strongly held economic belief down the drain. He did this during his early years at Princeton University.

Ron Howard’s widely acclaimed bio-pic starts off with the West Virginia prodigy reinventing Adam Smith. The Nash Equilibrium is a theory, which proves that every game reaches a state of equilibrium where none of the players can improve their position and it has been applied to such wide ranging practical subjects as the FCC's auction of bandwidth. Although it’s supposedly Nash’s most trivial work to date, it was brilliant enough to earn for him the Nobel Prize for the Economic Sciences back in 1994.

This was long after he finished battling paranoid schizophrenia. The filmmaker’s intermixing of delusions with realities is effective in that it keeps the audience guessing as to whether Nash is or is not insane. But more importantly, it is successful in showing a broken genius, a man betrayed by his own truths.

The film contains obvious attempts to explain Nash’s sickness. This is evident in a scene where young, cocky Nash loses a board game to a rival. Bitter, he declares: “the game must be flawed!”. This is a metaphor suggestive of how Nash’s frustrations must have led him to retreat to an imaginary world where he is better appreciated.

The last half of the movie shows a humbler, more sociable Nash able to ignore his delusions and to willingly admit in front of all those Nobel folks how his lovely wife actually saved the day.

But that’s strictly for the birds. Nash’s speech contained nothing of that sort. Only, that material is quite consistent with the movie’s marketing pitch: “It is a great gift to have a beautiful mind, but an even greater gift is to have a beautiful heart”. It is a truly classic way of pitting the emotions against the intellect; of equating courage with the former and genius with the latter.

But then genius is no longer believed to be confined in the workings of the mind, to be measured by standardized IQ tests alone. An exceptional ability like that of Nash’s is not even, as they say, a matter of degree but of a different quality of experiencing: vivid, absorbing, penetrating, encompassing, complex, commanding -- a way of being ‘quiveringly’ alive”.

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Nash himself was stereotypically portrayed. There are departures from actual accounts meant to make for a ‘softer Nash’, one we can bear to watch at the most comfortable angle to watch him from.

Nash is said to have learned not by studying other people’s works but by rediscovering them for himself. Sure, the guy is brilliant. But his brilliance is coupled with the compelling need to create something. In an autobiography, Nash writes. “ Statistically, it would seem improbable that any mathematician or scientist, at the age of 66, would be able through continued research efforts, to add much to his or her previous achievements. However I am still making the effort and it is conceivable that with the gap period of about 25 years of partially deluded thinking providing a sort of vacation my situation may be atypical. Thus I have hopes of being able to achieve something of value through my current studies or with any new ideas that come in the future”.

It is said that a truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To them... a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.

Nash’s passionate need to go looking for his “original idea” may have brought him to the brink of sanity, but let us not forget it may have redeemed him from it as well.

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