"Math Genius Finds the Formula for Love"
In A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND, a young math genius struggles to accept his father’s death and embrace his loved ones as he competes for a coveted spot at the International Mathematical Olympiad. This movie is an inspirational treatise on love, but God isn’t mentioned, and there is some content requiring caution for older children.
In A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND, Nathan Ellis, a 9-year-old math prodigy, has just lost his father in a car accident. Nathan’s intellectual gifts have led him down a path of social awkwardness, but strangely, his father was the only one who was able to connect normally with him. Although Nathan values his mother, Julie, he shuns any physical contact with her and treats her as more of a caretaker than a parent.
Wanting to make sure Nathan isn’t distracted from his studies, Julie enrolls him in advanced classes at a new school. There, he comes under the tutelage of teacher, Martin, also a math genius, who now suffers from multiple sclerosis. Martin sees himself in Nathan, once a promising young mind in the field of mathematics, who gave it all up once he was diagnosed with his illness.
Seven years later, Martin is preparing Nathan to compete for a spot in the International Mathematical Olympiad, a prestigious high school competition consisting of the world’s best young mathematicians. This year, it is to be held at Cambridge, after a two week math camp in Taiwan where the students will study for the test that determines the winners. Nathan fears he’s not good enough to qualify but ends up doing well enough to accompany 15 other British teenagers to Taiwan.
Suddenly thrust out of his comfort zone, Nathan finds himself no longer the smartest math whiz in the room, and his social anxieties nearly paralyze his performance. He has trouble reading the social cues of others and flinches at the slightest physical contact with another person. Nathan is paired with female Chinese student, Zhang Mei, who slowly helps him adjust to his new surroundings and helps him fight through his fears. By the skin of their teeth, Nathan and Zhang make the cut to compete in Cambridge.
Back in England, Zhang stays with Nathan and his mom, who’s shocked to find that his behavior has transformed into something more normal. She becomes aware that he may have feelings for Zhang, which she asks him. Not fully understanding the concept of love, Nathan is unsure how to express his feelings. He keeps his emotions bottled up as they all travel to Cambridge and settle in for the Olympiad.
Things quickly unravel when Zhang’s uncle catches her in Nathan’s room one morning and mistakenly accuses them of being in an intimate relationship. This causes Zhang to withdraw from the competition and leave. Nathan, who now believes he loves Zhang, is torn between her and the Olympiad. When he sits down among hundreds of other students around the world for the exam, the first question triggers memories of his dead father, which combined with his newly lost love, creates an emotional overload. At the pinnacle moment of his mathematical career, Nathan must make a decision whether to stay and pursue his dream, or give into the pain that’s haunted him for most of his life.
A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND performs a bit of a trick, lulling the audience into thinking they’re watching a movie about a math genius trying to live up to academic expectations, when in reality, it’s more of a love story. It approaches love from a broad standpoint, using autism and intellectual brilliance as a vehicle for analyzing this strongest of emotions. The movie’s most memorable scene takes place near the end after Nathan has a nervous breakdown of sorts, and his mother tries to explain love to him in mathematical terms. It might be one of the more beautiful moments in modern movie history, cleverly written and executed.
That said, the movie does leave things partially open-ended. So, it would be nice to know where the characters are headed in the future.
Although the biblical principle of unconditional love is practiced and discussed, the notion of God and the Bible is completely left out. The concept is presented as a purely human attribute. Also, Martin’s struggle with his disease leads him to abuse prescription drugs, and has no problem taking other illegal substances when the opportunity presents itself. He also doesn’t hesitate to use strong language around children, making him a less-than-desirable role model. Martin and Julie both deal with depression throughout the movie while Nathan confronts his social awkwardness brought on by his slightly autistic characteristics. One of Nathan’s fellow students is very autistic, causing the others to verbally bully him. This leads to him revealing his own autism.
While there isn’t a ton of objectionable content in A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND, the movie does have some crude dialogue and other mature content that may not be suitable for children. Caution is advised.
(H, C, B, Cap, LL, VV, A, DD, M) Light humanist worldview focusing on human abilities with no acknowledgement of God, but unconditional love is the story’s central theme, so there’s some light redemptive, moral elements, including some strong family bonds, plus some capitalist-friendly content about competition; 11 to 13 obscenities and profanities, plus an obscene gesture is used; a disturbing scene where teenager purposefully cuts himself out of anger and self-deprecation, car wreck kills a father with his uninjured young son beside him, fish suffocates when taken out of water and accidentally spilled onto floor; no sexual content; no nudity; some social wine drinking; high school teacher confiscates a joint from student then smokes it himself, and man abuses prescription drugs; and teenagers verbally bully another teenager.
In A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND, Nathan, a slightly autistic teenage math genius, decides to compete in a math competition for the world’s brightest high school students. As Nathan prepares, he’s haunted by memories of his dead father, the only person able to communicate normally with him. He meets a female Chinese math student who brings him out of his shell. The two develop feelings for one another, but Nathan doesn’t understand the concept of love. As pressures mount, Nathan finds himself on the cusp of losing his new love and giving into the grief over his father’s death.
A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND lulls viewers into thinking they’re watching a movie about a genius trying to live up to expectations, but it’s really a love story. The most memorable scene is the mother trying to explain love to her autistic son in mathematical terms. It’s brilliant. The Christian concept of unconditional love is approached, but from a human viewpoint. Issues of depression, grief, drug abuse, cutting, and bullying are included. There’s also some foul language in A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND; so, caution is advised.