Panel Discusses “A Beautiful Mind”; Nash’s Legacy

REEL LIFE: After the film, John Stier, one of Nash’s sons, and Dr. Joseph Kohn spoke about their memories of the real John Nash. “You have ten years of fantastic work, and it sort of looks like in the movie that he spent most of his time cutting out newspapers,” said Kohn. “He did really remarkable work.”

By William Uhl

On October 4, Princeton Garden Theatre partnered with the Historical Society of Princeton to hold a screening of A Beautiful Mind, a 2001 film about Nobel Prize winner and Princeton Professor John Nash’s mathematical achievements and struggles with schizophrenia.

Before the film’s screening, West Windsor Mayor Shing-fu Hseuh spoke about his plans for Nash Park, a park in John and Alicia Nash’s honor which includes a pagoda and three gardens: one Chinese, one Japanese, and one Indian. After the film, the theater held a panel discussion with John Nash’s son, John Stier, and Princeton University Professor Emeritus of Mathematics Joseph Kohn, who studied under Nash when Nash taught at Princeton University.

While Stier and Kohn both praised aspects of the film, neither found Nash’s depiction in the film to be terribly similar to the John Nash they knew. While the film acknowledged his academic genius, it also portrayed him as socially inept, which both felt was inaccurate. “I would say that he isn’t recognizable at all,” said Kohn. “First of all, they show him as being socially awkward — not so. He was extremely handsome, very popular. He was very sociable in kind of a funny way.” Kohn also took issue with Nash’s portrayal as an incompetent, apathetic teacher. “He was a fantastic teacher — absolutely inspiring. A little eccentric with the way he graded or the way he interacted with his students, but his insights and the way he organized the material was just remarkable,” said Kohn, remembering his time in Nash’s classes. “Probably one of the most inspiring teachers I ever had.” Stier had less to say on the matter, though he made it clear he felt similarly. “[Nash in the film] feels completely different on a person-to-person basis — he’s Russell Crowe, an actor,” said Stier. “It was convincing, but I didn’t recognize my father there.”

The discussion was more receptive when it moved towards the film’s portrayal and resolution of schizophrenia. Though the panel pointed out how the film took a few artistic liberties with the nature of Nash’s schizophrenic delusions, they appreciated the film approaching the issue of mental illness. A mental health professional in the audience mentioned the value of the movie’s skepticism of `60s-era psychological medicine. She also brought up the value of a strong support group, which the movie portrayed both in his wife, Alicia, and in Princeton University.

The panel concluded with Stier and Kohn recalling their fondest memory of John and Alicia Nash, in light of their passing in a car accident in 2015. Kohn recalled John Nash’s playful sense of humor, retelling a memory of Nash bringing a bouquet of flowers to a notoriously theatrical math professor’s speech. Stier recalled the hospitality of his stepmother, Alicia Nash. “I just remember Alicia always making her home available for me to come down and visit… Giving up a bed, taking the sofa for me as a guest,” Stier said. ”She did that for me every single time. She always went out to work, sometimes leaving the house at five o’clock in the morning to go away to Trenton. She was quite heroic in that sense.”