The mosT nominated film for the Academy Awards this year Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind" has received a fair share of criticism along with acclaim. Detractors say this "biopic" about Nobel Laureate John Nash's battle with mental illness changed important parts of Nash's story. Other critics feel it belittles the seriousness of mental illness by suggesting that mere positive thinking can overcome it. Both points merit careful consideration.
It's often said that art is concerned with conveying the spirit of a subject, which may be truer to life than a literal depiction. If art's purpose is to provide insights into truth and ultimately into ourselves, "A Beautiful Mind" succeeds. It causes us to think about the power of truth and love to overcome delusions of many kinds.
The movie portrays Nash's psychotic delusions in the form of imaginary people with whom he interacts and to whom he feels bound in different ways. When he finally realizes that these characters are creations of his own mind, he decides not to talk to them anymore.
In one memorable scene, he walks by the adorable and fictional little girl who calls him Uncle John as she reaches out to hug him. This creative device brought home not only how much effort it took for Nash to resist his delusions, but the struggle any of us can face to stop obsessing about emotion-charged memories or limiting fears.
I saw Nash's efforts to gain control over himself as more than positive thinking or willpower. He was struggling to distinguish truth from delusion, and he knew that he needed more than the logic he'd relied on all his life to do it. At one point, his wife tenderly advises him to trust his heart more than his head. This raises the question for all of us what is truth and how do we know it?
The great spiritual teachers have defined truth not as what the senses perceive, but as metaphysical, or divine. For example, Gandhi said that the absolute truth, or eternal principle, is God, and that God is love. He also said, "God is wholly good. There is no evil in him. God made man in his own image. Unfortunately for us, man has fashioned him [God] in his own" ("The Way to God").
A half-century before Gandhi, the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, had also defined God as Truth, Principle, and Love. In her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she delved into the practicality of Jesus' promise "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32, Contemporary English Version). She related how, through deep prayer, Bible study, and experiments in healing, she discovered that understanding God to be wholly good and man to be God's image could free people from all sorts of evil.
As Gandhi devoted his life to overcoming the ignorance and selfishness that underlie social injustice, Mrs. Eddy worked tirelessly to free people from mistaken concepts that result in physical, mental, and emotional disease. John Nash's victory over mental illness has the ring of truth to me because Science and Health's explanations of how to overcome disease with spiritual truth have been the foundation for a number of healings in my life.
At one time, my legs became swollen and inflamed. I didn't opt to have a medical diagnosis and treatment because I'd begun to trust that the truth Jesus spoke of is the natural way to be set free from disease. The truth is that God is invariable Love, and causes nothing unloving. Since God doesn't cause disease, no truth supports it.
Although my eyes told me that my legs were in bad condition, my heart told me that only good could be true. So, much as John Nash did with his mental delusions, I resolved not to focus attention on the appearance of the disease. I won't lie this was tough. I was discouraged at times. But I kept returning to the truth that God is Love and I am God's image. And I particularly tried to make this practical by being more unselfish and loving. I believe this active effort to love kept fear from taking over. My legs healed.
It's unusual for a theater audience to burst into applause, as they did at the end of "A Beautiful Mind." To me, it was a signal that people cheer every evidence that truth and love set us free.