The problem with the book is that it's not written by a mathematics
or psychological expert, but an economics
reporter. Therefore, there are huge parts of the book that report, say, math culture of the late 40's
, through a glass darkly, and equally large parts that try to explain schizophrenia
(which, we're repeatedly told, is a brain disease, and nonononono, it's not because of bad upbringing, sexual confusion, or stress), and the treatments given for it, equally dimly (mostly, the old treatments --insulin shock
-- were terrible, the new ones--mostly neuroleptics
-- are great, even though his recovery seems to have occurred despite all of them). In reading it, I had to look up both my old copy of Introduction to Finite Mathematics
and Martin Gardner
to make any sense at all of what was being spoken of mathematically. True, he did win a Nobel Prize
for economics, but economics was such a small part of what he did that it almost seems besides the point.
The problem of the movie, therefore is that it's doubly obscured: in order to shoehorn Nash's complex and multifaceted life into a standard Hollywood feel-good script, the fact that there was much that was ugly about his mind gets shoved under the carpet. For instance, the fact that he'd been a problem child (with a love of high explosives) even before college, never mind graduate school, enjoyed making bigoted remarks, and playing cruel and dangerous practical jokes...all of this gets smoothed out into a few catty comments on professional matters. His sex life is equally thorny: he's bisexual, and once enjoyed kissing other men in public for fun (which, in the 50's, in LA, was not only illegal but the reason for the arrest that ousted him from RAND), having sired a child out of wedlock, he abandoned both mother and child to poverty...hardly the activities of a fellow too socially inept to understand that women don't engage in "sexual intercourse" (which phrase Russell Crowe's bizarre accent turns into something far more alluring than clinical) without a bit of strategizing. (The implied subtext that college-age women of the early 50's would be engaging in casual sex is a ludicrous anachronism.)
Even less problematic details get short-shrifted: his wife, a gifted engineer before the greater influx of women into the field, is shown, tamely, painting living-room paintings of Paris for a living. His complex delusions all get condensed into a few overarcing fantasies -- the many and varied messages he left for Princetonians on hall blackboards aren't shown, nor his countless petitions for foreign citizenship to avoid any further involvement with the Department of Defense. We never once see the game (Hex), that was for many years his chief claim to fame, nor So Long, Sucker!, his commercially published game, which was for a time a modest commerical success. Even his love of dancing and bright colors (he once startled a secretary in Fine Hall by asking for "the sharpest scissors you have", only to use them to snip out a map from the phone book --for a scrapbook-- whose vibrant hues attracted him). All of this is lost. We see undergraduates mock him, but don't hear the classic rebuke "He's a better mathematician than you'll ever be."
To be quite fair, there are some details that are dead-on accurate: Dr. Nash does keep house for Alicia (again, before it was fashionable), he does enjoy wearing his orange Tigers cap in all weathers and with any outfit...and yes, childrens, they really do use those medieval-looking restraints, even today. (The Humane Restraints five-points made me smile in recollection...the closest I've ever come to classic sick humor.)
But instead of a real groping after humanity, we get a standard Hollywood love story, with a little math and suspense in it, and a milkwater moral. He deserves better.