Cinematography is not, despite its creative nature, a totally imagined world as in most cases filmmakers refer to the important social, political or cultural issues. Even if the films are not based on real events, they still offer their interpretation of different social processes that the audience is interested in. While analyzing the message of these films it may be useful to apply some scientific theories that can help to better understand the behavior of the characters and relate the events of the movie to different social aspects. The film A Beautiful Mind directed by Ron Howard is an impressive illustration to a number of sociological and criminological theories in action – namely, some elements of deviance theory closely connected with labeling theory, rational choice theory, and conflict theory.
The film A Beautiful Mind is based on the real biography of John Nash, a famous mathematician who was awarded a Nobel Prize in Economics. Although there are some minor differences from what happened in reality, the movie reliably describes the events that happened in his life adapting them for the purposes of cinematography. The story starts when John Nash comes to Princeton University to study for the Carnegie Scholarship in mathematics. It is quite difficult for him to find common language with other students, but he becomes good friends with his roommate Charles. Nash manages to come up with revolutionary ideas in the sphere of governing dynamics and he is invited to work for the Pentagon in deciphering codes. He marries a girl named Alicia and seems to have a happy life despite the fact that his work gets more dangerous. Alicia understands that Nash has some sort of mental problems and the psychiatrist she called for manifests that Nash has a severe form of paranoid schizophrenia. It turns out that Charles, his niece and William, the man who hired Nash to crack codes are imaginary figures. Nash starts taking medications, but they make him a different person who is unable to have a full life. Later he decides to stop taking pills and try to fight schizophrenia himself. The imaginary characters do not disappear but he learns to live with them, returns to Princeton and even teach classes for students. At the end of the film he is nominated and awarded the Nobel Prize.
One of the main theories that may be applied to the analysis of this film is the theory of deviance that can be interpreted here both from the sociological and criminological perspective. John Nash is different from the people who surround him. He is too absorbed in his work and has a strange manner of communication with people that shocks them. Nash acknowledges that he does not have skills needed for human interaction. However, it is important to mention that deviance is a socially constructed concept. The film has a very interesting episode when the psychiatrist explains Alicia the illness Nash is suffering from. He says that his schizophrenia may have gone untreated for a long period of time as such deviant behavior is considered rather normal for the scientific circles where people are often too absorbed in work to pay attention to some “strange” things. This example shows that deviance is relative and the behavior that can be considered deviant in one environment is quite appropriate in another. These issues are closely related to labeling theory. Nash being a schizophrenic is believed to be potentially dangerous for the people who surround him. The psychiatrist claims that he may even kill Alicia and tries to deprive Nash of the right that are granted to “normal” people and take him to hospital. In other words, he is labeled to be dangerous and only his wife manages to break this stereotype – she stays with him and returns him to normal life.
Another important theory discussed in this film is the rational choice theory. According to this theory, people usually commit crimes because they are acting in their self-interest. A Beautiful Mind does not feature any actual crime, but the findings that Nash makes at Princeton allow to argue that this theory does not always work perfectly. The theory of rational choice goes in line with Adam Smith’s statement that was refuted by Nash. He proved that people do not get the best results when they act only from the perspective of self-interest, but when they combine self-interest and the interest of the group. It does not mean that the rational choice theory is ineffective, but while applying it to the reality a sociologist or criminologist should take into account that other possibilities also exist and by analyzing all the elements and options it is easier to avoid mistakes and wrong judgments. This movie also shows that the rational choice theory may not work when the individuals have some mental problems. It is obvious that Nash’s actions in many ways cannot be considered rational due to his illness.
The film provides numerous illustrations to the core principles of conflict theory that plays a significant role in both sociology and criminology. There are many different approaches to the study of conflicts, their origins and repercussions, but modern conflict theory developed by C. Wright Mills seems to offer better explanations of the situations shown in the movie. Mills argues that the conflict originate between people with differing interests and resources. Probably one of the most interesting examples of this approach to the conflict theory is the episodes when Nash communicates with the girl from the bar and later Alicia. When John comes to the blonde girl he says he wants to have an intercourse with her, and offers her to assume that they have already told one another all those things required by the “ritual”. The girl splashes Nash in the face and runs away. It is a typical example of a conflict that may be even considered a crime as the girl may treat this episode as sexual harassment. However, Nash wanted to avoid all those words that from his perspective were useless and unnecessarily complicate human relations. On the contrary, the girl wanted to have a “normal” date. The filmmakers also show a different ending to the same episode when John says the same things to Alicia who is ready to forget her romantic hopes as she loves Nash and understands that he is not trying to insult her. These episodes illustrate how the same initial data may or may not lead to conflicts (or probably even crimes) in case when the interests of individuals differ or coincide. These ideas may have a wide range of application in modern criminology and sociology that devote much attention to the study of conflicts in the modern world.
To conclude, A Beautiful Mind is an impressive and thought-provoking work of cinematographic art, but also a good source of examples that either prove or refuse some basic sociological and criminological theories. The film features a number of different episodes that can be related to deviance theory, labeling theory, rational choice theory, and conflict theory. These scenes help to better understand the nature of these important theories and allow to interpret them from different perspective.