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In the 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind Charles (who is a hallucination of John Nash) smashed the latter's desk through the window to the snowy quad. Then two men who were walking in the quad were shocked to see the event.

Since Charles is a hallucination, the falling of the desk to the ground never happened. So why were the men in the quad so shocked?

Was it just to hide the fact from the viewers that Charles is a hallucination? Or were the men a hallucination as well?

I myself think they weren't a hallucination. Because the men were there at the time of falling. But John didn't come to the window to watch the desk until moments after the desk fell down.

Skip to 3:04 to see the desk dropping scene:

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    "Since Charles is a delusion the falling of the desk to the ground never happened." Not necessarily. I haven't seen the film, and don't feel confident making this an answer, but in some other fictional works involving delusions, actions performed by the delusions are often actually performed by the person whose delusion they are (Call of Duty: Black Ops being the example that springs to mind). So it may have been the case that Nash himself smashed the desk through the window (hence the bystander's reaction) and merely imagined someone else doing it.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 12:08
  • @F1Krazy William Parcher who was also a delusion ordered his troops to insert a code below John's skin. Later in the movie when John realized about his condition he cut his wrist. But he didn't find the code. If it was John himself that cut his wrist and inserted the code he should've found it later. Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 12:21
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    You can't say "this is not how it worked with example 2, so it cannot have happened in example 1" ... they are two different situations.
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 13:46
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    Is the idea that the rules governing a mental illness are not 'strict' in the way that you seem to want them to be? That some delusions like the people he repeatedly imagines are entirely in his mind and some things are the result of his own bizarre behavior? He does other things 'in real life' that his wife and colleagues notice. For what it is worth my interpretation of the desk was exactly as @F1Krazy states, that he did it and the delusion was that it was Charles that did it (though its been a long time since I saw the movie).
    – iandotkelly
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 13:59
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    I don’t agree that the third option is unlikely… it’s wouldn’t be so much as the filmmakers trying to trick the audience as a simple minor plot hole / the filmmakers failing to be consistent.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 19:03

1 Answer 1

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As John Nash was a real person who actually suffered from schizophrenia, I searched to see if his real desk had ever been thrown from a window. I did not find a definitive answer, but it appears unlikely.

According to one comparison of the film versus the biography on which it was based, in real life, Nash did not hallucinate a roommate. There are also apparently many other differences between the story in the film and the real life of Nash, both in relation to his illness and other details.

With that out of the way, I think it helps to see the entire scene, which doesn't start up in the room/office with the desk, it starts with the conversation with Helinger (Judd Hirsch). Helinger essentially tells Nash that Nash isn't good enough. After which Nash returns to his room/office angry and frustrated. He hallucinates Charles, and has a violent argument with him. We see Charles push the desk over and through the window, and two students walking in the quad outside stop and stare in shock.

Without any clarification from the filmmakers, the most likely interpretation of the story is that what "really" happened is Nash did push his desk out of the window himself because of his rage and frustration, and hallucinated that Charles did it as part of his illness and also as a rationalization. We are shown this scene in this way so we get a sense of Nash's drive, passion, determination, and also erratic nature. And yes we are meant to be kept comfortable with Charles being "real".

I couldn't find any information on whether people suffering from hallucinations in the real world blame their own actions on their hallucinations, but it happens all the time in film and TV shows.

In summary, we are meant to think that Nash himself pushed the desk through the window, the two students outside are real and shocked, and Nash believes it was Charles who pushed the desk out.

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    The biggest difference between the film and Nash's real life is that in the film Nash and Alicia lived as couples until their deaths, while in reality they divorced and remarried. Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 15:16
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    There are many other major differences: the real-life John Nash's schizophrenic hallucinations were not visual, only auditory, and started many years later than shown in the movie.  He was a consultant for the RAND Corp, not for the Pentagon; and the movie doesn't mention his earlier relationship with a nurse or their child. (The author says that the narrative “while far from a literal telling, is true to the spirit of Nash's story”.)  And while the portrayal of game theory in the movie is rather good, it doesn't mention his fundamental contributions to many other areas of mathematics.
    – gidds
    Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 16:40
  • Or just smashed the window.
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 17:23

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