In A Beautiful Mind, director Ron Howard uses symbolism to show the danger of using isolation as a method of coping with problems. This film sheds some light on the horrors of a mental illness and advocates the importance of accepting others’ help. When John Nash is suffering from schizophrenia, the contrast between darkness and bright lighting is a metaphor for the darkness he surrounds himself with despite his wife’s attempts to help. The venetian blinds obscuring his face when he stands at his window symbolize the confinement of isolation.
In a noir thriller styled scene, ‘Agent Parcher’ drives a terrified Nash on a dangerous car chase. The lack of light in this sequence creates a stark contrast with the warm, golden glow of his lounge in the following scene. These two scenes in juxtaposition give the audience some insight as to how unstable and unpredictable the mental state of someone suffering from schizophrenia is. Upon returning, Nash chooses to shut himself inside their bedroom. The director uses this symbolic act of ‘shutting the door’ to signify the monumental moment Nash chose isolation over external help.
Alicia portrays the caring family member who gets shut out both physically and emotionally. When she says “Open the door! Let me in, talk to me! ” on the surface, she is asking to enter the room. Underneath, she is begging Nash to open the metaphorical ‘door’ of isolation and accept her help. The contrast between Alicia in the bright lounge and Nash in a dark room furthers the idea that he has shut the door to her light. He has locked himself in the dark alone with his problems, preventing her from helping. Although Nash is the main character, Alicia is the focus in this scene because she shows the frustration of someone trying to help.
Her actions and facial expression illustrates the desperation she feels when Nash shuts her out. In the real world we encounter problems everyday, and out of stubborn pride or habit, we try deal with them alone. The director is trying to show through this scene that when other people try to help, it’s vital that we welcome it. Later in the film, Nash stands in a pitch black room and Alicia opens the door, letting light flood into the room. Backlighting is used to make Alicia appear angelic, allowing the audience to make the inference that she is Nash’s saviour.
He then angrily turns off the light, extending his darkness outwards. Nash thinks that he could manage on his own but in reality, not only did he deny Alicia the chance to help him, he also dragged her into his darkness. The director uses the metaphor of darkness extinguishing light to symbolise the negative effect Nash’s refusal has on Alicia as well as himself. Nash’s schizophrenia relentlessly traps him because he is extinguishing the light of other people’s help before they have a chance to reach him. In dark times, Nash needs to confront his problems with his wife.
Perhaps he felt that it would be cowardly to accept her help for an issue that’s not tangible. Those who suffer from mental illnesses often feel helpless and alone. A reason is because it’s extremely difficult to actually admit that they’re ill. This made me think of the quote, “But a mermaid has no tears, and so she suffers so much more,” from The Little Mermaid. Nash confides in no-one, like a mermaid weeping silently and invisibly. This makes the audience feel sympathy for Nash, who had to bear the whole burden on his own shoulders. We also pity Alicia, because she must feel utterly exasperated and unable to help.
This shows that when stricken with mental illnesses, the patient isn’t the only one that suffers. The darkness extends outwards, trapping the family and friends as well. The blindness of paranoia prevents him from breaking free of his isolation. A scene with venetian blinds in front of his face allow the audience to draw links to a prisoner because the layers of blinds parallel the prison bars. This link shows that Nash is imprisoned by his illness. However, Nash does not look out of his window with a look of longing. His facial expression shows that he’s perfectly content standing behind ‘bars’.
This contentment shows the true horror of mental illnesses. Where the patient is deeply incarcerated by their mind, but in their loneliness, they cannot see how isolated they are. The way Nash is framed in the window reinforces the idea that he is confined. The window frames look too small to hold him, as if he’s uncomfortable boxed in. Nash’s refusal to accept and confront his illness can be likened to the chinese proverb ‘a frog at the bottom of a well’. The isolated frog might see the light from the top of the well but he has no way of making it out without external help.
The small patch of sky, being the only fragment of the world the frog has seen, leads him to believe there is no other possible world. The frog is similar to Nash who, in his blindness, thinks facing his illness alone is the only way to go. In fact there are people all around him who wish to help. This film successfully conveys its message and raises awareness about schizophrenia, however one film is not enough. The aversion and suspicion we have when offered help, has been cemented too deep for one film to change. This film was released in 2006 yet it is just as relevant today.
Despite the advancement in technology and means of communication, the preference of isolation has not changed. In an interview, John Nash, the film’s inspiration, said “I do think that the hospitals tend to be too much like warehouses rather than places where there is really a strong type of psychotherapy effort. ” This shows the aversion that some people have to the idea of help. A hospital is the place where people are ‘repaired’, where doctors and nurses try their best to help the patients. But for the doctors to do anything, the patient must firstly wish to be helped.
This film serves as a campaign for all those with mental illnesses as well as people around them. Through the symbolism of Nash standing behind blinds, Ron Howard showed the idea that although isolation is an easy way to respond to problems, it’s only temporary. Through the contrast of darkness and light, he shows how easily help can be refused. When the prisoner isn’t even aware that they’ve put themself behind bars, it’s the mission of the people around them to break them free. And when others reach out to help, it’s vital that the sufferers accept.