Monday, August 04, 2008

A Beautiful Mind - Sylvia Nasser

Just finished the book, but can't help talking about both the movie and the book, since I saw the movie first. Which in fact brings us to the interesting question of movies based on books, and which one should you read/ see first. But we'll leave that topic for another day.

Frankly in this case, I think the movie had very little in common with the book. The movie though brilliantly made and acted in, is a very limited and simplified account when it comes to covering John's life. It covers mainly the schizophrenia, which I thought it did beautifully. I specially like the idea of starting out from a patient's viewpoint and how real everything is to them. However there's a lot more to him in the biography of course, a third of it doesn't even begin about his illness.

The book is a much more detailed and researched bit. In fact I would say too detailed - too many names and facts. Perhaps that inevitable with a bio, however it does diminish the enjoyment for someone who's not familiar with the mathematical circles. It does a fair job of sketching his mathematical achievements, the person himself, warts and all, the hint of the illness always lingering in the background, and the final interesting background of the Nobel itself which perhaps was the main reason that we've heard of him at all. Overall an interesting read, but could've been more interesting with less names, and more well ideas..

I loved the name though. The beauty implied is very different from the one portrayed in the movie, and thats interesting. After all beauty does lie in the eye of the beholder.


Saravanan said...

I have not read the book but I have seen the movie. It is a general notion that the details in the book can't be transformed to the movie completely.

I believe book should be better. But I loved the movie. Russell was too good in the movie. I loved his acting. I love the tag line of the movie as well : "The Only Thing Greater Than the Power of the Mind is the Courage of the Heart"

Tess said...

yes usually its hard to transform a book to a movie, but in this case I'd say they hardly bear even a passing resemblance.

The movie was great, and so was Russel , absolutely loved his acting!

harjot said...

I have seen the movie and am reading the book currently. The two are poles apart. I agree that this book cannot be transformed into a movie because there are way too many characters and the content is slightly technical in many places.
One thing that struck me was the fact that the author repeatedly bemoans the lack of social life of mathematicians. Most mathematicians are shown to have a solitary existence , with only a few getting into any sort of relationship. This is primarily attributed to the fact that very few females had any interest in higher mathematics, and as a consequence were averse to interacting with men who pursued this subject.And its not just maths. This applies to any of the sciences.That was 1948. I am sure that it is not too different now. Maybe, this is what made the director remove most of the technical content from the movie ,lest he lose most of the female viewership- the primary driver in making any movie a success.

Which brings me to the question : Are females averse to science and math by birth?
I know I am going off on a bit of a tangent here , but this is something that always perplexes me. My experience tells me that any discussion on science and math will make most of them run for cover. Harvard's ex-Dean , Laurence Summers , was pilloried for suggesting that women are genetically averse to science and math :
Yet , I am sure he has the facts and figures (enrollment stats)to back his thinking.
His views are in consonance with what the book suggests, only that the two are separated by a span of 6 decades , suggesting that very little has changed since then.
There are initiatives like WISE ( women in science and engineering ) which have come into existence to address such issues. The existence of such fora means that everyone knows there is a problem but the unwritten rule is that anybody who speaks his mind on this will burn in hell and be hounded by feminist groups for the rest of his life, as Mr Summers found out.
Even here, in India , the HRD ministry , appalled by the poor enrollment stats of women in engineering , have come up with a preposterous proposal to setup an IIT only for women:

IMHO, I get the feeling that most women are inherently not too inclined to take up pure sciences as a career option, but I have not been able to pinpoint the reason for this aversion towards science and math and men of science and math. Any thoughts?

Anantha said...

ABM is one of my favourite movies. I too took up the book after watching the movie multiple times. But after few pages of reading it, I decided not to read it further.

I wanted the 'taste' of the movie to remain unadulterated.
[I know that would be a harsh comment for the novelist, but Ron Howard narrated the story better]

[To Saravanan]: The Only Thing Greater Than the Power of the Mind is the Courage of the Heart yes.. its an awesome saying dude..

Tess said...

@harjot - hmm interestingly put. You've brought out 2 different points here,

First, about the book vs the movie. Well there i'd say its not just about the multiple characters, and being technical ( frankly i didn't think it was very technical, had just about enought details. Fermat's theorem was probably more technical, and more interesting! ) I think they just followed totally different approches. The book concentrated on being a complete well researched biography, at the expense of being a page turner. The movie on the other hand concentrated on schizphrenia. It didn't even pick on the other parts like his complex relationships, which could have made very gripping non technical viewing. However I think what it picked it did damn well. Having lived with the disease at close quarters for decades, I'd say it was amazingly put.

Now for the second bit , Females being averse to science and maths. Frankly I don't know. Maybe they are. I mean as percentages go, maybe more women would prefer something non technical, I say "maybe" based on stereotypical notions, and articles like the one you listed. I'm not an expert on the subject, and have myself always loved the sciences. - well maybe not chemistry :D .

My argument against taking the numbers in isolation, or reading too much into just them, is simply this - there are a lot of other factors at work, in more subtle ways than we realise. I wouldn't subscribe to IITs for women myself, that money is better spent in primary education, where droves of them get eliminated at least in this country.

Tess said...

@Anantha - :) loved the movie too.. Actually you mind find after completing the book that the taste remained unadulterated, since like I said, there's not even a passing resemblance between the two!