Based off of a documentary, the British drama fiction film A Brilliant Young Mind follows Nathan (Asa Butterfield), a teenage mathematical prodigy. While Nathan’s autism gives him ease with numbers, it makes it difficult for him to relate to others. Traumatized from the death of his father, he further delves into the numerical world, which leads him to meeting his teacher and mentor, Martin Humphreys (Rafe Spall), who trains him to compete in the math Olympiad. The film focuses on Nathan learning how to interact with those around him and learning the true nature of love.
A Brilliant Young Mind divulges the patience and understanding needed for relating to someone like Nathan who, on the surface, may appear selfish and apathetic. After Nathan’s father dies, he is unable to develop the same kind of intimate, emotional connection with his mother, much to her frustration. The screenwriter, James Graham, avoids the maudlin storyline that’s often overused with people with disabilities. Instead, he focuses on developing subplots, which are intercut with Nathan’s time spent training in Taipei.
Martin Humphreys is a man suffering from multiple sclerosis; he was once a math prodigy, much like Nathan, but he’s devolved into the emotionally tempestuous character in the film. He manages to add comic relief while also telling a melancholy story through the foreshadowing of his imminent physical decline. In the film, to little surprise, a relationship eventually develops between him and Nathan’s mother, Julie. However, when Martin stumbles while making a pass at her, it becomes clear that their future romance will not be an easy one.
The romance between Julie and Martin is not the only one in the film, though. Nathan falls for a girl he meets in Taipei named Zhang Mei (Jo Yang), a math prodigy competing on the Chinese team in the math Olympiad. Their romance, although sweet, felt forced. There were three main female roles in the film, and all of them simply acted as romantic counterparts for the male leads.
Much of the film is highly predictable as it flirts with many cliches in its genre; yet, the film itself manages to never feel cheesy as the story unfolds. The audience never feels overwhelmed with clinical details about Nathan’s autism, which prevents the film from becoming boring and preachy. The film ultimately takes a lighter note because it shows Nathan learning how to work through his challenges, embrace his talent with numbers, and understand others.
The film’s heart lies in its plot as opposed to any technical achievements. The director, Morgan Matthews, lets the actors’ performances and the plot carry the film. The message of the film is that what may seem to be a curse by normal societal conventions can, in many ways, be a gift. Although Nathan may not excel socially, he has a gift with numbers, and over time he learns to develop loving relationships. Nathan’s story tells us to embrace ourselves because — whether it be your need to geek out or some other seemingly unconventional burden — you have a gift, so make the most of it.