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Structure: A Beautiful Mind

A structural overview of A Beautiful Mind (2001).

It took me a while to appreciate this gem by Akiva Goldsman and directed by Ron Howard. Not sure why.

The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, so I had a good reason for looking into it.

Screenwriter Goldsman had a personal attachment to the material. He created a method for training mental health workers and his parents had established a home for emotionally disturbed children.

“For me the source was both the biography and John Nash. I wanted to feel what I thought was the truth of those two objects.” -Akiva Goldsman

I watched the film to study its Point of View. I learned a lot more. To me this film is about a journey from hubris to humility. In Akiva Goldsman’s story, the character of John Nash is a man obsessed by the genius of the mind, who learns to appreciate the genius of the heart.

ACT ONE

SEQUENCE A: Hubris and Truly Unique Ideas. (15mins)

00.00    TITLES
01.30    Princeton ’47. Mathematicians! Who’s the next Einstein?
02.30    John Nash, the mysterious West-Virginian mathematician.
05.00    Surprise – a roommate: drunk Charles Herman.
07.00    Drinking with Charles: I want to find truly original idea.
08.30    Extract algorythm from pigeons. Plays ‘Go’ with Martin.
09.30     Angry at loss: Hubris! Cynically: “The great John Nash”
11.00    Onto something: what if nobody loses? Charles: eat!
12.30    Billiards, approaches girl too directly. Gets slap in the face.
14.30    Mid-year review: no placement. Witnesses pen ceremony.

The sequence opens with Nash’s objective to find a truly original idea. His attitude to his fellow students may seem shy, but it’s clearly arrogant (his flaw). He considers himself superior to the others, those ‘hacks’. The sequence ends on the Inciting Incident: He’s been told he desperately needs to show results or he’s out.

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SEQ. B: Governing Dynamics – Opportunity calls (11mins)

16.30    Desperate for new idea. Charles throws desk out.
18.30    Blonde in bar – Governing dynamics: Adam Smith was wrong!
21.00    In room, working on new theory.
21.30    Professor acknowledges breakthrough: any placement OK.
23.00    Celebration, with Sol & Bender. Martin toasts, too.
24.00    ’53 Pentagon: summoned to decode Russion transmissions.
26.00    Decodes, poses too many questions, asked to leave.

As a result of his academic breakthrough, Nash is asked to help the Pentagon with their code decyphering. It tickles his interest and he wants to know more.

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SEQ. C: Hubris Challenged: the Call of Romance (9mins)

27.00    Sol & Bender. Cover of fortune. Supposed to be just ME!
29.00    Teaching – Alicia stands out: her solution to heat & noise.
31.00    Night. Parcher. “What can I do for the Dept. of Defense?”
32.30    Crossing Threshold, into codebreaker labs in warehouses.
35.00    They implant ‘radium diode’ in his arm. Am I now a spy?

By crossing the threshold, John is now a major player in the Government’s attempts to locate and stop the Russian transport of a nuclear bomb.  His pride and arrogance hasn’t faltered as is clear from his behaviour among Sol & Bender. Now John’s mission is clear, we’re ready to go into Act II.

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ACT TWO

SEQ. C: A World of Mystery and Imagination (11mins)

36.00    Alicia in his office to ask him out for dinner.
39.00    Party: sees suspicious men. Goes outside with Alicia.
41.00    ‘A pair of odd ducks’. Shows her an umbrella shape in stars.
42.30    Codes everywhere, compiles data & prepares envelope.
44.00    Delivers envelope with secret data to mail box.
45.00    Picnic w/ Alicia, is being direct. They kiss.

The love subplot is set up, advanced and John is successful in keeping the two worlds separate.

A_BEAUTIFUL_MIND-3

SEQ. D: Two conflicting journeys (17mins)

47.00    Charles introduces Marcee. Marry Alicia… How to know?
49.30    Late for Alicia’s birthday dinner. He proposes to her.
52.00    Wedding – Parcher is there, too.
53.00    Picked up by Parcher – Chase and gun fight.
55.00    Home. Doesn’t talk to Alicia.
56.30    Acts paranoid in class: sees men outside, stalking him.
57.00    Complains to Parcher: “not what I signed up for!”
57.30    Alicia is pregnant. Parcher: Help or Russians after you.
59.00    Night at home: tells Alicia to go to sister’s. Not safe.
60.00    Nat. Math Conf.: Charles there with Marcee for lecture.
61.00    Men come in during lecture, John escapes, chase.
62.00    Rosen, psychiatrist, introduces himself. John escapes.
63.00    Taken away by Rosen and his men, screaming “Russians!”

It becomes harder and harder for John to manage his paranoia and his relationships start to suffer. At the conference he drops the ball completely and the public humiliation is a turning point: it has now become a medical issue.

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MID SEQ.: Alicia’s POV – Gaining awareness. (14mins)

64.00    At hospital with Rosen. “Tell me who you see.”
66.30    Rosen explains to Alicia about imaginary Herman.
69.00    Alicia visits John’s office, sees evidence of madness.
70.00    Alicia visits the house with mysterious mail box.
71.00    Alicia visits John in hospital; envelopes unopened.
74.30    John cut wrists: implant is gone.
75.00    Rosen: schizophrenia. 10wks of shock treatment.

Now we know that John’s perception is unreliable, his POV no longer functions as that of the protagonist. Therefore we shift to the next – reliable – character with the greatest emotional objective: Alicia. We’ll stay within her POV until John has a plan again.

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SEQ. E: No meds: sliding back into darkness. (13mins)

77.30    One year later. Alicia & Sol. How are you coping?
79.00    Sol: Other things besides work. John: What are they?
81.30    John holding baby, deflated. Alicia takes him away.
82.30    Alicia: talk to people. Take out the garbage.
83.00    Talking to who? -Garbage man. -Not at night. -Here they do.
84.00    Rejecting Alicia in bed. She breaks down.
86.00    Alicia works overtime.
86.30    Not taking his medicine. Hallucinates again: Parcher.
88.30    Shed w/ equipment. To Parcher: Was scared you weren’t real.

SEQ. F: At the lowest point – seeing the truth. (12mins)

90.00    Storm coming: Alicia goes into the shed. Clippings…
91.30    John nearly drowns the baby. “Charles was watching!”
93.00    Alicia calls Rosen. John hurts her. Parcher: Finish her!
94.00    Marcee can’t be real. She never gets old!
95.00    Rosen: Why did you stop meds? Get treatment or gets worse.
97.00    Commitment papers. -Rosen was right: I’m not safe anymore.
99.00    Rosen leaves. Alicia: I need something extraordinary.

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ACT THREE

SEQ. H: Working it out (14mins)

101.3    Princeton, 2mnths later: Martin. Work out of the library.
105.0    Going nuts in library w/ Parcher. Martin stands up for him.
106.0    Alicia: Stress triggers it. Try again tomorrow.
107.0    Farewell to Charles & Marcee.
108.0    Audit class. 1st class.
108.3    Working in library. Ignores Charles.
109.0    Students make fun of John, he ignores them.
109.3    John with son.
110.0    Teaching, Parcher still around, Marcee too.
111.0    ’78: Progress. Toby presents his theory. John offers food.
113.0    Alicia & Martin see John in his element, with students.
113.3    I might teach. Terrible! Maybe Spring. Playing Go.

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SEQ. I: Return with the Elixir (8 mins)

115.0    After class: considered for Nobel Prize. Let’s have  tea.
117.0    Concerned about image of Nobel Prize. I am crazy. Pens!
120.0    12/94 Ceremony Stockholm. Speech for Alicia. All my reasons.
122.3    Ready to leave. Ignores the delusions.
123.3    THE END

The greatest challenge for writer Goldsman must have been to make the identification with a schizophrenic work. Any mainstream audience will instinctively resist this.

To compensate, Goldsman sets up John as a brilliant mind with a number of objectives that keep us going until the Mid Point. Then, his disease can no longer be ignored and his POV has become unreliable.

At this point, showing his craftsmanship, Goldsman shifts the POV to the sane person closest to John: his wife.  She now has the most powerful objective: to get her husband back.

The sequence continues until John has gained awareness about his condition and is committed to do something about it.   After the next sequence’s opening scene – 1 year later – we move back into his POV.

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About the Author

Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in international movie rights acquisition, script development and production. He has trained and consulted to filmmakers all over the world, including award-winning screenwriters, and Academy Award nominees. Karel founded this website, as well as Logline.it!, ranks among the most influential people for screenwriting on social media, and speaks more than a handful of European languages (which should come in handy in his present hometown of Sydney, Australia).

Comments 5

  1. Hello. Checked our your sit and love it. Your “Structural Analysis” is excellent. I’d def. like to get the word out about your site. Perhaps you can check out ours. Really cool!

    Chi
    BestScreenwritingBooks.com

  2. Pingback: Cracking A Beautiful Mind’s Schizophrenic Inciting Incident. | The Bark Bites Back

  3. Ed Harris, Russel Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Paul Bettany were terrific.

    The film had great balance and is worth a viewing.

    The story boldly addresses mental illness as a handicap.

    Because of the quality of the acting and directing, this movie is a beacon of hope for people of all disabilities. The film illustrates to the viewer how deeply a handicap can infiltrate the domestic, professional, and personal lives of those unfortunate to have these types of issues. I hope Ron Howard and the acting crew can get together again for something similar. This was a great film, that also serves an important role for awareness to people that might not understand how deeply debilitating these issues can be, and also gets the message across that not all should be marginalized.

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