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What movie is based on schizophrenia?

A Beautiful Mind

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Written by
Pat Bauer

Pat Bauer graduated from Ripon College in 1977 with a double major in Spanish and Theatre. She spent most of the next 42 years working as a copy editor and editor at Encyclopaedia Britannica. She retired.

Pat Bauer
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The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

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Last Updated: Apr 4, 2023 • Article History
Table of Contents

A Beautiful Mind

A Beautiful Mind
Awards And Honors: Academy Award (2002) . (Show more)

A Beautiful Mind, American biographical film, released in 2001, that told the story of American Nobel Prize winner John Nash, whose innovative work on game theory in mathematics was in many ways overshadowed by decades of mental illness. Parts of the film, which is set largely on the campus of Princeton University against a backdrop of Cold War intrigue, are seen from Nash’s delusional perspective. The movie, directed by Ron Howard and based loosely on Sylvia Nasar’s 1998 biography of Nash, won four Academy Awards, including that for best picture.

The movie begins in 1947 at Princeton, where Nash (played by Russell Crowe) has arrived as a graduate student, together with Martin Hansen (Josh Lucas), Richard Sol (Adam Goldberg), Ainsley (Jason Gray-Stanford), and Bender (Anthony Rapp). Nash is arrogant and dismissive of his classmates but gets along with his roommate Charles (Paul Bettany). Nash generally pursues his studies alone but, when Charles suggests that he take a break and go to a bar, Nash agrees. At the bar, a discussion with his classmates as to the most successful way for them to approach a group of women leads to Nash’s breakthrough paper on game theory.

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Nash later receives an appointment to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Sol and Bender become his assistants. A few years later, he is asked to the Pentagon to decrypt coded Russian communications. His success impresses William Parcher ( Ed Harris), a high-level agent in the Department of Defense. While teaching at MIT, Nash begins dating a student, Alicia ( Jennifer Connelly). Parcher visits Nash to enlist him in a group of workers who scan newspapers and magazines to find hidden Russian codes embedded in the text. Nash is to leave deciphered codes in a secret drop box for Parcher. The clandestine work makes Nash nervous, but he is cheered when he reunites with his former roommate Charles. He marries Alicia soon thereafter. Some time later, Nash gets caught up in a gun battle between Parcher and several Russian agents. Terrified, he asks Parcher to be relieved of his assignment, but Parcher tells him that he would be killed if he were to quit. While giving a lecture at Harvard University, Nash sees Charles in the audience but then spots Russian agents as well, and he flees.

Nash is captured, sedated, and sent to a psychiatric facility under the care of Dr. Rosen (Christopher Plummer). Dr. Rosen tells Alicia that Nash suffers from schizophrenia and that Parcher and Charles exist only in Nash’s mind. Alicia is not convinced until she sees the inside of Nash’s office and also finds the drop box, which is full of unopened missives. Nash receives therapy, and Nash, Alicia, and their son move to Princeton. The medication makes Nash lethargic, however, and eventually he stops taking his pills. After he knocks Alicia to the ground when Parcher urges him to kill her, he and Alicia decide to find a way to live with his illness. After that, although Nash continues to see Parcher and Charles, he no longer interacts with them. Eventually, he is able to return to teaching, and in 1994 he receives the Nobel Prize.

A Beautiful Mind was criticized by some viewers for glossing over some of the darker elements of Nash’s life story, including the facts that Nash fathered a child with a different woman before marrying Alicia and that he was arrested in 1954 for indecent exposure. The mathematician’s symptoms in fact did not begin until 1959, after he had written his dissertation. Although the film depicted Nash’s hallucinations as largely visual, Nash himself reported that his delusions were mostly auditory and mental. The screenwriter, Akiva Goldsman, conceived of the visual hallucinations as a method for giving the viewer the sensation of experiencing delusions. Though in reality Nash apparently had a remission of his mental illness, in the movie the character says that he is taking a newer medicine. This was a choice made by the director in order not to give the impression that abandoning medication was an appropriate method of dealing with schizophrenia.

15 Best Movies About Schizophrenia

Best Movies About Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a terrible mental illness. However, some of the best films ever made have featured schizophrenic characters. From the Joker in The Dark Knight to Trevor Reznik in The Machinist, let’s talk about some of the best movies about schizophrenia.

15. Angel Baby (1995)

Angel Baby (1995)

Angel Baby is one of the most renowned films about schizophrenia. Scoring over 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, this film garnered a lot of respect from viewers and people alike. 28 years after its release, the film is still one of the best about this mental illness.

It tells the story of two schizophrenic patients who fall head over heels for each other. They begin to think they’re made for each other—so much so that they stop taking their medication, and then the disaster ensues.

14. Take Shelter (2011)

Take Shelter 2011

Take Shelter is another movie that portrays the devastating effects of schizophrenia. This film came out in 2011, and it’s largely known for Jessica Chastain being in it, playing the wife. However, it’s Michael Shannon who truly steals the show.

His character, Curtis, thinks there’s a terrible storm brewing. At first, he thinks it’s just a nightmare, but then those nightmares turn into hallucinations, and he begins to think the terrible storm is inevitable.

13. Misery (1990)

Misery (1990)

Misery is another great film that shows the psychotic effects of this mental illness. Standing at around 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, this film came out in 1990 and now holds the status of a cult classic among its fans.

The film begins when a best-selling novelist meets an accident back his way home. Then, he begins to realize he has been taken prisoner by a fanatical fan. Soon, he realizes his fan is not what she seems to be.

12. Bullet (1996)

Bullet (1996)

Bullet is another cult classic from the 90s, and it’s largely associated with Tupac Shakur being the lead character called Tank. The other cast members are quite renowned as well Mickey Rourke and Ted Levin, who plays Louis Stein—a Vietnam vet with schizophrenia.

While Levine’s character doesn’t have as much screen time as the rest of the leads, he still does justice to a war vet who might be going through this mental illness. Besides that, a great story makes it a definite must-watch for those who like neurotic movies.

11. An Angel at My Table (1990)

An Angel at My Table (1990)

An Angel at My Table is another great film, but this Australian film didn’t garner much attention in The United States until the late 1990s. Thanks to streaming services, this film has now become a common name in neurotic thrillers.

Standing at over 95% Rotten Tomatoes ratings, this film is about Janet Frame and her turbulent childhood in New Zealand. On top of all this, it’s a true story based on the writer Janet Frame.

10. The Professor and the Madman (2019)

The Professor and the Madman (2019)

The Professor and the Madman is one of the recent films in the list of movies based on schizophrenia. While the film failed to gain affinity from critics, people loved it around the globe for its accurate portrayal of a lunatic suffering from the worst sort of schizophrenia.

It begins when Professor James Murray (Mel Gibson) begins to compile the first edition of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary. Soon, he receives an entry of 10,000+ words from a schizophrenic and an asylum called Dr. William Minor (Sean Penn).

9. The Soloist (2009)

The Soloist (2009)

The Soloist is a once-in-a-lifetime pairing of Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey Jr. Downey plays an enthusiastic journalist called Steve Lopez, who ends up befriending a homeless and mentally ill man called Nathaniel Ayers.

Now, this schizophrenic isn’t lunatic or psychotic—instead, he has outstanding musical abilities, which would put great artists to shame. Lopez begins to write about Ayers, and in a few articles, the life of both these individuals becomes intertwined and turns around.

8. Spider (2002)

Spider 2002

Spider is widely hailed as one of the best acting gigs of Ralph Fiennes, right beside his work in Schindler’s List. This film came out in 2002, but it’s still going strong and holds a strong 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing.

It begins when a mentally disturbed man dubbed Spider (Fiennes) takes up residence in his old family home. Soon, the memories of his childhood come back haunting, as he realizes his father might have been the murderer of his mother.

7. The Shining (1980)

The Shining Movie

The Shining is one of the greatest films ever made—period. There’s no denying this is widely acclaimed as Stanley Kubrick’s greatest work and perhaps the best work of Stephen King. Moreover, a lot of people think Jack Nicholson left nothing on the table in this film, either.

All these elements make The Shining one of the best films about schizophrenia, where the main character Jack (Nicholson), begins to lose his sanity over a series of events. Soon, things go from bad to worse, and we, as viewers, can feel its impact.

6. The Machinist (2004)

The Machinist 2004

The Machinist saw Christian Bale take his usual shape-shifting abilities to another level. In the process, he lost a record 63-pound to portray the insomniac and schizophrenic machinist called Trevor Reznik, who loses his sanity as the days go by.

Unable to get any sleep, Reznik becomes obsessed with a man, who he thinks is following him everywhere. Soon, he begins to question the motives of everyone around him—including those who profess to love him.

5. Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Requiem for a Dream 2000

Requiem for a Dream is a story of drug addiction and how a simple habit can become life-threatening. Sara (Ellen Burstyn) gets widowed and decides to live a retired life—until she decides to lose weight with the help of pills.

The pills soon become an addiction, and it begins to take a strong effect on her mental health. The film shows the extremes of drug addiction, from simple weight-losing pills to harder drugs. This has made it one of the most renowned films ever made on the topic.

4. The Number 23 (2007)

The Number 23 (2007)

The Number 23 is a testament to the acting abilities of Jim Carrey. We don’t often see him in roles where he isn’t goofy or playing someone that makes us laugh endlessly. In this movie, he plays Walter Sparrow, who questions his own existence.

On Christmas, Walter is gifted a book called Number 23. Soon, he begins to realize the book might be about him as the similarities between him and the main character are uncanny. He becomes obsessed and begins to question his life altogether.

3. Donnie Darko (2001)

Donnie Darko 2001

Donnie Darko is another film that has gained the cult-classic label over the years. While the film wasn’t exactly a box-office marvel, it stands at 87% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s still widely hailed as one of the best films made on schizophrenia, time travel, and science.

It begins when a teenager, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), becomes obsessed with a bunny that only he can see. Soon, the bunny tells Donnie that the world is about to end in four weeks. This leads to a series of events that push Darko towards learning more about time travel and its traverse effects.

2. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A Beautiful Mind 2001

A Beautiful Mind is also one of the greatest films ever made and an Oscar winner. The film features a star cast of Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Paul Bettany. Besides that, this film is based on the true story of John Nash.

It begins when Josh Nash (Crowe) takes an assignment rather unwillingly. The assignment is from William Parcher (Ed Harris), who wishes to exploit the brilliant mind of John Nash, a brilliant and schizophrenic mathematical genius.

1. Shutter Island (2010)

Shutter Island 2010

Shutter Island is one of the stars in the ever-prevalent career of Leonardo DiCaprio. It begins when Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) is called to an asylum on a remote island with his fellow US Marshal Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo).

They are there to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a patient who vanished into thin air. Soon, things begin to unravel, and Teddy realizes that all may not be as it seems—as he is plagued by flashbacks of war and of his own life.

Honorable Mentions

  • Words on Bathroom Walls (2020)
  • Repulsion (1965)
  • Clean, Shaven (1993)

Did you like our list of the best movies about schizophrenia? Share your feedback in the comments!

How Schizophrenia Was Portrayed in A Beautiful Mind

how schizophrenia was portrayed

Nash developed the first symptoms of schizophrenia in the 1950s. He later made significant contributions to the field of mathematics, including the math of decision-making and the extension of game theory. His struggles with this mental disorder and its effects on his family were made into a film that has aroused questions regarding schizophrenia. As a mental health care center in Boca, we wanted to analyze how schizophrenia was portrayed in A Beautiful Mind.

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental disorder that affects a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This disorder also causes people to feel out of touch with reality. While there are multiple symptoms linked to schizophrenia, the most common include hallucinations, delusions, and difficulties concentrating.

Schizophrenia is a chronic and severe mental illness that can have a detrimental impact on anyone’s life. Without proper care, an individual can lose their life to this disorder. At Banyan Mental Health, we offer schizophrenia treatment that’s led by a team of professionals dedicated to helping patients with this mental disorder.

What Are The Symptoms Of Schizophrenia In A Beautiful Mind

There are several examples of negative symptoms of schizophrenia in A Beautiful Mind, including:

  • Delusions of grandeur
  • Reduced daily activities
  • Neglected hygiene
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Incoherent speech
  • Self-harm
  • Fear of persecution
  • Lack of interpersonal relationships

If you or someone you know begins to portray these signs of schizophrenia, we offer different kinds of mental illness treatment in Boca that can help.

What A Beautiful Mind Got Right About Schizophrenia

Many individuals with schizophrenia hear voices or see things that aren’t there and may even seem disconnected from reality or caught up in a different world. While A Beautiful Mind is not an entirely accurate depiction of John Nash’s life, it does offer an accurate representation of schizophrenia.

Delusions of Grandeur

Delusions of grandeur, or grandiose delusions, are among the most common signs of paranoid schizophrenia. This is when a person has an exaggerated sense of significance, personality, authority, or knowledge. In other words, a person displaying this symptom may think and act as if they’re superior to others in different ways. An example of this in A Beautiful Mind is when John offends his other classmates by calling their work “unoriginal,” and claiming that he’ll make something original.

Onset of Symptoms

Although John didn’t begin to show signs of schizophrenia until he was in his 30s, the movie portrayed his symptoms manifesting in his 20s. While this doesn’t accurately depict the course of John’s life, the 20s are the most common period during which schizophrenia reveals itself.

Lack of Emotion

Another common sign of schizophrenia is a change in how a person speaks. In many scenes, including the one where John tells Charles that he “doesn’t like people much,” he shows very little emotion when he speaks. This is frequently portrayed throughout the movie.

Impact of this Disease on a Person’s Life

People with schizophrenia have trouble differentiating fiction from reality, which is accurately portrayed in a scene where John gives a speech about his current research. During this scene, John sees men in suits and believes them to be soviet spies who have been ordered to capture him. Instead, they are really men sent to take him to a psychiatric hospital. John’s delusions advance, causing him to believe that he’s actually working for the Department of Defense under an agent named William Parcher. Eventually, his wife was able to prove to him that none of his letters to the agent were ever opened and that William Parcher never existed.

What A Beautiful Mind Got Wrong About Schizophrenia

While there were plenty of accurately portrayed characteristics of schizophrenia, there were also some that were exaggerated or inaccurate.

There Is No Quick Fix for Schizophrenia

In the movie, it appeared that John only spent a short time in the hospital, receiving treatment and taking the appropriate medication before jumping back into his research; however, this is highly inaccurate. Schizophrenia is a life-long disease that requires consistent therapy and treatment to help the individual adjust and cope with this mental disorder. John Nash himself actually struggled for decades with his mental illness and was unable to work for a long period of time.


While delusions are common side effects of schizophrenia, not all schizophrenics see delusions. Regarding John Nash specifically, he didn’t see delusions like Charles or the soviet spies as they were depicted in the movie, but rather he heard them. Oftentimes, auditory hallucinations – hearing things that aren’t real – can cause delusions. While it can occur, the soviet spies and Nash’s friend Charles can be considered exaggerated symptoms of schizophrenia. These characters help the audience visualize what John was thinking.

Many people have looked into how schizophrenia was portrayed in A Beautiful Mind. Overall, the movie can safely be considered an interesting depiction of a debilitating mental illness that affects the lives of many. If you or someone you know is currently struggling with this mental disorder, call Banyan today at 888-280-4763 for more information about our residential mental health program in Boca.

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