Module b sample response: a beautiful Mind



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Module B
Sample response: A Beautiful Mind

Response by: Mel Dixon


The Question

(Based on 2014 HSC question for Witness)




Explore how Howard’s use of contrast highlights the experiences of outsiders.
In your response make detailed reference to A Beautiful Mind.



Prescribed Text: A Beautiful Mind 2001 (Ron Howard)


Opening addresses the focus of the question (outsiders) through ‘isolated’
Directly refers to film techniques


A Beautiful Mind, directed by Ron Howard, is based on the life of John Nash, Nobel Prize winner for Economic Sciences, 1994, but rather than focusing on the man’s greatness the film seeks to portray a man isolated from society, trying to connect, but never fully, to the lives of others. This isolation emerging from Nash’s mental illness is captured through the interactions of the characters, from Nash’s point of view, supported by film techniques. Howard reveals a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions with a sensitive but flawed individual recognising and struggling against his own weaknesses but, unlike the classic tragic hero, he emerges triumphant.


The topic sentence distinguishes intellectual and social self
Techniques of setting, camera and colour are discussed



From the beginning we see the contrast between the intellectual Nash and the social Nash. The film begins in the setting of Princeton, one of the most prestigious universities in the United States, in 1947, with the footage tinged by a golden glow contrasting the distant past with the more recent past. In a room full of young male mathematicians one man stands isolated. Howard immediately establishes difference with a slow zoom to Nash alone as the speaker says ‘Who among you will be the next Einstein?’ He has offered a challenge to the men before him, all sitting together in a wide shot showing the group, except for Nash at the back.

Discussion of character, focusing on words spoken
Point of view shots shown to be effective for empathy


Nash’s fascination with patterns is revealed as he talks to other men outside. His eyes catch the patterns on a tie, the refractions on crystal. Everything stimulates Nash intellectually but he has difficulty with social relationships as he always says the wrong thing – especially to women. His words confirm that he is very different, socially inept and even arrogant as he accuses his fellow scholarship winner, Hansen, of ‘miscalculation’ and states that all he wants to do is ‘find a truly original idea. That’s the only way I’ll truly distinguish myself.’ The camera captures Nash’s point of view, so that we can empathise with Nash and we also start to understand the experience of being an outsider from his perspective.


Topic sentence connects with previous statement
Elements of plot are discussed
Synonyms are used for outsider: different, isolation, separateness,
Techniques of foregrounding, editing, transitions, point of view are discussed in relation to outsider


This empathetic point of view is cleverly manipulated by Howard in his representation of Nash’s delusions. Nash’s roommate, Charles, becomes a true friend, totally different in personality but always supporting Nash in his beliefs. His mentor, Parcher, from the Department of Defence, is always there at the oddest of times, requiring Nash to find the patterns of spy networks by reading all the magazines he can find. Here we see Nash communicating in ways he can’t with other people but the audience is only allowed to see from Nash’s point of view. In this way, Howard positions the audience to be as surprised as Nash when his psychiatrist, Dr Rosen, tells him these people are delusions. As an audience we need proof just like Nash does and so the building to which he delivers his documents to Parcher is revealed to be an abandoned ruin and we learn that there is no evidence of his friend Charles or his boss, Parcher. Nash’s isolation and separateness becomes even more apparent during his electric shock treatment when we see him through an observation window in the hospital theatre. His wife and psychiatrist are foregrounded as they take charge of his treatment. After the electric shock we see him in a mid shot through the fly screen of his verandah, humbled and incapable of feeling. To capture these stages of Nash’s life, Howard uses a white fade for transitions in between some of the scenes – suggesting the disconnection of Nash’s inner self to the outside world.


The word contrast from the question is considered over the whole film

Important scene described through mis-en-scene, camera shots music and editing



Contrast in the film, however, not only demonstrates alienation but it also works to show acceptance. Nash reinstates himself at Princeton but suffers the scorn of young students and even the librarian. He continues to write his equations on the leadlight windows but is drawn away by a young student who seeks his guidance. From there we see a gradual process of reintegration into the community of scholars. Earlier in the film, Nash witnesses the expression of admiration for a professor in the scene showing the giving of the pens. He stands outside the room and observes the homage made. Near the end when he is approached by the Nobel Prize committee representative, he enters the staff common room for the first time since that earlier event and, as he sits, he too experiences the acceptance of the community. The camera moves from a wide shot to establishing the mis-en-scene of the common room, to a mid shot as he is approached by a colleague, to close-up shots of the pen that is the first of the many to follow. This moving scene stirs our emotions as the music rises in crescendo before an edit to the Nobel Prize ceremony.


Final summing up refers to title and brings together all the film techniques that show the outsider

The film is a celebration of difference but also of the strength of the human mind; the ‘beautiful mind’ that can solve a puzzle that has great impact in the world of economics, and overcome the terrors of acute mental illness. It is through the camera angles, film shots, music and the editing process that we are able to share the world of John Nash and to understand first hand the feelings of separateness of an outsider.



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