Sunday, 2 February 2014

Growing mature?

At the Soulmate’s insistence, I finally re-watched “A beautiful mind”, the magnificent film I once had seen when it went to silver screen and I had been fourteen then. I only remembered I had been under the spell of the drama; nothing more. The second viewing, dozen of years after the first one, had all features of the first viewing. For the first hour of watching, I was promising myself to look up whether John Nash’s mathematical genius was indeed exploited U.S. Army agencies in the first years of cold war. Subsequent scenes passed by until I finally realised most of the plot I had witnessed were just John Nash’s delusions or a blend of reality and figments of the great mathematician’s imagination. Then ensued the gruesome depiction of him, fighting the illness.

The film is neither a faithful biography of Mr Nash, nor does it focus on his contribution to theory of economics. The big-screen interpretation of his biography leaves out some facts from his life (my point of reference is the wikipedia entry) and distorts others. It totally omits the story of having an illegitimate child before getting married, the divorce to his wife, as well as the fact they were not married in 1994 when he was receiving the Noble prize. The selective references to his academic achievements seem actually in place, given most of the audience have basic notion of game theory, economics and abstract aspects of mathematics and would actually get bored if the film dwelled on academic concepts.

The plot actually revolves around the theme of a hell a person suffering from paranoid schizophrenia goes through. I have no idea how much trouble the crew shooting the film had taken to explore perception of the world by a person afflicted by that mental illness, so I would not dare to assess the accuracy with which the delusion Mr Nash could have had, were presented. Probably even extensive studies on schizophrenia-affected mind and hours spent talking with psychiatrists specialising in the topic would just allow to produce a substitute, simplified picture of what actually goes on in ill person’s head.

The moment a viewer realises the events they have followed for the half of the film were just a delusion, comes as a shock. The scenes witnessed in the second half of the film emanate with torment afflicting a mentally-ill outstanding academic.

I wonder why has someone come up with this very and no other title of the film. What was so ‘beautiful’ in Mr Nash’s mind? The film might not depict truthfully the mathematician’s disposure, attitude towards the world and relationships with people and I should make allowances for it. But the picture of his personality which emerges from the film shows an outstanding academic whose grasp of complex mathematics and ability to describe interactions in the world using algorithms and equations are totally outshined by absolute lack of social competencies and conviction of his own superiority. According to the article dated 2002, when the film was nominated to Oscar Award, the film deftly passes over dark sides of Mr Nash’s biography, as in the reality his conduct was at best shameful. As the author points out, at the time of releasing Mr Nash was still alive and could sue film-makers for putting him in bad light, therefore they have filtered out all “sludge” (a perfect equivalent of Polish omnipresent word SYF) and have put out a rose-coloured, though poignant picture of a man trying to overcome the mental disease. In fact, Mr Nash was an exceptionally gifted, but full of himself mathematician, those talents were offset by social deficiencies. No mind over matter here for me and no sympathy for the devil.

Despite his ‘lousy character’, John Nash will go down in history as a Noble prize winner who has made considerable contribution into game theory. It has to be noted his exceptional intellect made him prone to mental illness which almost knocked down his career.

Recall the story of my classmate who once begged me to lend him money (I have not recovered until today)? Karol was also remarkably clever, therefore my first guess on why he had wheedled out thousands of zlotys from his friends was schizophrenia. Only later his mother told me he had fallen into compulsive gambling. But my general observation was spot-on – even his therapists confirmed due to his wits, curing his addiction was more complicated. I last called his mother in December 2012, she was very reluctant to talk me and only let me know he was still doing his time for unpaid debts. Watching “A beautiful mind” reminded me of his calamity. I wonder what and how he is doing…

Mother Nature when she endows people with competencies usually strives to be even-handed when giving out talents. Those generously bestowed with some skills lack other. The other story is that intelligence and emotional intelligence often do not pair up. A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in a meeting on talent development in my company during which someone asked a question, whether there can be any drawbacks of retaining most clever employees. Without second thoughts I responded: “A not really clever employee will do their job according to the rules and will not take the trouble to think how to circumvent them. A quite clever employee might be shrewd enough to come up with a way how to circumvent the rules, but if internal control systems are efficient enough, they will be caught. An outstandingly clever employee will not only circumvent the rules, but will also dupe the internal control system. Thus their misconduct might unnoticed and results might grow big until they blow up the whole company.” My not really well-thought-out (in the context of the meeting and its participants) was maybe politically incorrect, but I believe was actually spot-on. The more intelligent you are, the more dangerous you are. The history has proven this dependency right.

Drifting back from another digression to the pivot of this post, I posit one should sometimes grow up to fully grasp content one is exposed to it. This spans from understanding purports of books, films or dramas to taking part in religious celebrations. My reception of “A beautiful mind” differs from impressions the film made on me in 2002. The same happened recently when I read George Orwell’s 1984 for the second time, while the first time was in 2006.

Recently I repeatedly asked myself a question whether familiarising young people with some stuff should not be deferred. Two months ago I went to a theatre to see an enjoyable, hilarious, play. Most of the audience were teenagers (aged approximately 16 who came as organised school group) who most of the time would burst out laughing, giggle, whistle or shout something towards actors. Oddly enough, shortly thereafter I read a letter from a reader of Gazeta Wyborcza, who experienced even more scandalously behaving youngsters in another theatre. I am of the opinion sensitivity to high art should be instilled into young people before it is too late, especially because not everyone’s parents care about this aspect of child’s development, but should such occurrences be the price to be paid?

1 comment: said...

Some of the movie’s details come from a recent biography of Nash's life, written by Sylvia Nasar, called A Beautiful Mind - hence the title of the film.