Throughout my experience with the movie A Beautiful Mind, I was struck by the director’s use of recurring symbols and motifs. Many of these motifs had both direct and indirect significance for the characters involved, and were repeated at least twice as the movie progressed.
The first major motif was introduced at the beginning of the film, at the lawn party in which the newly accepted Princeton scholars were mingling around a punch bowl. In this scene, we saw John Nash amuse himself by looking through a glass prism and finding “a mathematical explanation for how ugly [a student’s] tie was.” The glass prism presented itself again, most notably, in the scene where Nash indirectly proposed to his girlfriend Alicia. When light passes through a prism, it is fractured, and one can see all the colours on the visible spectrum. This is symbolic of Nash’s fragmented mentality; simultaneously broken and beautiful all at once. When Nash gave the prism to Alicia during their dinner date, it represented her accepting responsibility for him, which we would see more and more of as the plot developed.
The next motif was the particular phrase “Prodigal roommate” that one of Nash’s hallucinations, Charles, coined. When he first introduced himself to Nash, he made an abrupt entrance by proclaiming, “The prodigal roommate arrives!” and thus signifying the first manifestation of Nash’s schizophrenia. Later, after being separated for some time, he re-entered Nash’s life with his niece in tow, this time with the phrase “The prodigal roommate returns!” Although seemingly an innocuous event; in the context of Nash’s illness, it signified the worsening of his condition, because he now had three vivid hallucinations going on at once. Then, when in Dr. Rosen’s office, Nash believed that Charles had betrayed him and denounced him by saying “The prodigal roommate, revealed.” Repeated usage of the phrase “prodigal roommate” symbolized the development of Nash’s illness and the depth of his delusions.
The third motif was repeated in the final moments of the film, in which Nash encountered a young aspiring mathematician much like himself in his younger days. He repeated to the student the exact same thing that his wife Alicia had said during one of their first meetings: “When did you last eat? You know…food.” This repeated phrase demonstrated the sincerity of Nash’s love for his wife; because he remembered her exact words. It also left a touching impression on the viewers and was meant to invoke a sympathetic emotional response. Similarly, Nash’s friendly rivalry with Hansen was shown in this short exchange:
Hansen: “So how about it, Nash? You scared?”
Nash: “Terrified…mortified…petrified…stupefied…by you.”
The repetition of this exchange at the end of the movie reinforced the nostalgic atmosphere as the two old friends reflected on their past and how far their relationship had since progressed.
Overall, the usage of repeating motifs served to communicate important themes about the characters and also evoke emotional responses from the reader at the conclusion of the film.