Beautiful Young Minds
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Beautiful Young Minds

2007, Society  -   41 Comments
Ratings: 8.21/10 from 24 users.

This documentary tells the story of some of the brightest mathematical brains of a generation. Each year, exceptionally gifted teenagers from over 90 countries compete for medals at the International Mathematical Olympiad. The film follows a group of brilliant teenagers as they battle it out to become the chosen six selected to represent the UK.

Many youngsters see maths as an ordeal, but for these teenagers it’s a passion they are completely devoted to. We also hear how, for some, their extraordinary talent has left them ostracized at school. At just 15, Jonathan is the youngest contender in the group. A rocket-building enthusiast, he has already broken several UK distance records. However, Jonathan’s academic gifts and scientific interests have led to him being bullied for being geeky.

Some members of the group are on the autistic spectrum, and find social and confidence issues affect their everyday lives. 17-year-old Daniel has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, but recognizes that it’s good to be different. Apart from mathematics, the most important thing in Daniel’s life is his girlfriend Zhu Yan. The couple met when Daniel spent three months traveling around China, during which time he taught himself fluent Mandarin. He is desperate to win a medal at the Olympiad and we follow his progress as he gears up for the competition and brings Zhu Yan back from China to his family home in York with the intention of marrying her.

As the competition day draws closer and minds and emotions are pushed to the limit, the film shows these young geniuses in their element, enjoying the subject they love and ultimately being celebrated as they deserve.

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41 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Sofia

    Thats was a interesting documentary. I wish i had got "the gift" with my disorder :P i got diagnosed bipolar/mania depression when 17, sadly i didnt become newton or have any understanding of math what so ever. I think im on the other side, i sing, write stories, poems, and i often look on the world with questions my friends dont care to ask. Got told i seem much older than i am sometimes when i open my mouth and that i have good self-awareness. My IQ is on 114, but its hard to compare out from those tests. I think i got a other gift and im happy about that. everyone should find theirs and be happy about it ^^

  2. Brad Whodat Tomlinson

    Not one of them is black. Obviously math is racist.

  3. apparent pixel

    Jos spiced it up and Daniel made it beautifully human.

    So much better than the American 'Hard Problems', though there was one attractive personality in their team too.

    It's guys like Daniel who are more likely to discover beautiful theorems or theories. They may not be prolific or solve every problem thrown at them. But they may come up with mathematical gems like 'Godel's theorem'. I have been noticing this pattern---disability in solving garden-variety top notch problems coupled with an ability to solve few top notch problems in a way far better than the garden-variety best guys----most probably its their different way of seeing and processing things.

    We can and should be kind to guys like Jos, he is just a kid. He needs not punitive but correcting, understanding and caring treatment.

  4. MoiraF

    My brother has Asberger's, I think Jos is most definitely autistic. If you notice the way he almost seems to be playing this part, this haughty tone in his voice and his fixation on math. He probably adopted that as a defense against the confusion of trying to understand people when he was very young. Perhaps some adult or television character that he watched alot had a similar demeanor and he picked it up.

    Autistic children are brilliant in that they do not understand the normal social cues so they become excellent mimics. Of course I am only referring to the individuals who strive to be social, as some autistic children have no desire to interact.

    I could be way off base, but that's just based on my experience.
    There is one thing I am not reading on here though, Jos could be autistic, and an arrogant jerk. Being autistic does not make you a saint.

  5. Jimmy

    some funny units

  6. kierajakeway

    There is a guy in my class who acts just like Jos. Except, he's not autistic. He's just a super-douche.

  7. Xercès Des Stèles

    reporter: but have you enjoyed this tripped jon?

    jon: yeh!...

    reporter: thats good.

    jon: ure seeking some kinda elaboration are'nt ya?

    reporter: (thinks: what evs brah) maby.

  8. Eskild Finnesand

    "That usually happends with someone like me."
    "Someone like you?"
    "Yeah. Gifted, but not arrogant"
    I laughed

  9. Taras Moskvichov

    This guy isnt autistic, he is simply an antisocial douchebag. You all know who im talking about ;)

  10. leewebster

    also, the thing Cong said (the guy with the tash) about grinding up chinese people was pretty unsettling

  11. leewebster

    I wanna punch the guy at the beginning, I think it would help him and me.

  12. Dutch Major

    Though it is important to remember being a maths genius doesn't make you smart or truly intelligent, what it does make you is someone with a superb memory.

    When i begun learning English as my new primary language...i also needed to understand the maths being my shortcut was to self teach myself maths, which i did up to a few years ahead of myself...this was when i failed to understand my teachers didn't matter...i could understand the maths.

    All i did was go to to each category of maths, then memorize a few problems and solutions...i didn't even need to really understand how the solution worked in most cases...Then when i was given a problem within the criteria i have memorized a problem/solution...i could work of that to derive an answer.

    So the most important factor was memory and very little anything else...things only became hard...when my memory couldn't keep up, hence why people with good memory can easily excel at maths...not because they are smart, just have good memory.

    My memory is very selective, so memorizing maths was a i had little interest in it, but thats all i needed to excel...just memory and basic intellect...which is why mentally handicapped people completely dependent on everyone for everything can do even more advanced maths then the dudes in the doco...super focused memory with basic intellect to utilise it, they dont need to be smart...its just all that works properly in their thats what their minds focused on to the extreme...anyone can achieve this...but one must first sacrifice the improvements of their other mental faculties which make us human.

    Hence why so many genius type people severely "lack" basic intellectual elements...their ignored them and focused on whatever it is they became a genius at....everything comes with a it by choice or by forced mental impairment.

    If the price is worth it with its rewards...then who are we to complain if some wierd happy...if everyone was wierd...then suddenly the tables turn and why should they complain about you being odd.

    Though like Jos is a prime example of someone with forced mental impairment, were in their focused on what worked properly with basic intellect...though not a severe impairment...their interest and intentional focus on maths...made the impairment become worse...rather then balance out so they could gte along with normal people...though the impairment would have made him stand out regardless...his focus on maths just made him stand out more as he did not try to develop his handicapped mental faculties...leading him to a state of mind lacking true intellect and the ability it gives to understand all that is without maths.

    1. Karol Olko

      dear Major, may I ask you: what's your current level of math knowledge? I mean, do you consider yourself at least at a level of math master degree graduate? I find your opinion rather narrow and biased. I'm just a control engineering undergraduate, but I was lucky enough to encounter great lecturers in algebra, calculus or differential equations. I firmly believe getting to know some brilliant ideas and solutions pushed my boundaries of comprehension. My brain was constantly tested! Of course, I agree it doesn't take that much to pass a certain test. Most problems are schematic, allowing nearly any hardworking student to solve it... But working on a new problem requires a lot of CREATIVITY, a daring attitude to test some weird ideas that might just work. It's combining what you know already (MEMORY, as you state it) and linking it in a new, elegant way. Furthermore, it takes a lot of IMAGINATION to deeply understand some more abstract mathematical sectors.

      To sum up, please do not discount most of ingredients of a brilliant mind!

  13. Theanarchaist

    Being clever does not necessarily means to be a jerk...

  14. fl260

    I don't know what to think... I'm passionate about mathematics and I often regret not to be more skilled, but at the same time... as I'm also passionate about literature, philosophy, art, sport... and I firmly think that you gain a lot of knowledge, a whole new one, by getting out of a system to study it. To be able to take a look at mathematics from an artist's point of view or to look at your sport from a philosopher's, to me that's gifted.

    And anyway, I might not be that much gifted in mathematics, but I certainly understood a long time ago that you cannot compare two systems if they don't have the same variables...

    Our intelligences are distributed slightly unequally... and with diversity comes "ecosystems" : by being unequal, systems can alternatively tax each others, and evolution couldn't be possible otherwise.

    So in conclusion : the genius feeds on the fruit that the idiot has grown.

  15. Radisha

    Jos speaking with his stiff upper lip : "One swallow does not make a summer no matter how big it might be (Isaac Newton)."

    How wonderful to see these beautiful young minds accomplish something for themselves and to Learn the meaning of Pride in their own right.

    As for all those other youngsters who do nothing in their youth.......

    1. Hollis Evon Ramsey

      it was Aristotle, not Newton.

    2. truth

      it's an aristotle quote (jos did well in his philosophy class) but it was in reference to isaac newton studying at cambridge...

  16. Sieben Stern

    imho - i think it's kind of cruel to take kids with emotional and interpersonal difficulties and pit them against each other for the sake of math. isn't there a better way to find the best ones and still encourage the others?

    1. Aldo Solari

      I fully agree. Also, people with such emotional and interpersonal problems should be stimulated in social interactions not just in a competitive environment focused in maths - which may further block their social abilities. Besto from Spain.

    2. oklima

      I completely disagree - what you fail to realise is that they love math and are gifted at it. If they were forced into uncomfortable social situations like you suggest, they'd probably be miserable and end up killing themselves. It's the complete opposite of cruelty to let these kids do what they excel at

  17. Aldo Solari

    The documentary is interesting. However, it gives a somehow biased view of "the mathematically oriented". Also, I belive that putting kids affected by (some degree of) authism in such a competitive environment implies you lose more (potentially good) mathematicians for gaining a 6-team for the math games. Not a good strategy, I would say. All the best from Spain.

  18. Aldo Solari


  19. Robert Elliot

    Jos certainly has an extraordinary mind. Though you wouldn't want Jos in any sort of position where a sense of humanity should be a prerequisite. I say "should be" because, the way things are, Jos' employment would most likely be considered a valuable commodity by most any employer looking for top quality brainpower. That could include law since he also excelled in rhetorical skills. Military intelligence, I think, would particularly value his employment since he is unlikely to experience any moral qualms in addition to being a genius.

    What if the people who are actually in charge of this world thought like Jos? It would be a dangerous place to live since human life would probably not be highly valued unless one were among the few who possessed extraordinary skills. It would be a nightmare - something most wouldn't even want to contemplate. People who do have a sense of humanity find it hard to make out those who don't. One tends to assume their feelings are repressed rather than missing.

    Jos did quite well in philosophy and people in positions of power, sharing his arrogance, brilliance and lack of humanity, would most likely develop a philosophy to justify the belief that they are the only ones with any real value relative to the great mass of intellectually non-gifted citizens. They would consider themselves elite by their own definition - people with the right to make life of death decisions over the fate of humanity without consulting their intellectual inferiors and above being bound by any human concerns. They might decide, for instance, to knock over another country, steal their resources and impose a puppet regime so it the exploitation can continue indefinitely. Makes perfect sense if you have no empathy or compassion for your fellow man. It is so terrifying to contemplate that one would tend to avoid doing so if at all possible and the mainstream media enables that mass denial through their lies and obfuscations.

    For those who chose not to deceive themselves, the terrible prospect seems borne out more and more each day. What would you do if you *knew* people who think and feel like Jos were in charge? You would want to stage and intervention - to say, 'look, you are not fit, not mentally sound, to make the decisions you are making. There is something missing in you that is greatly valued by humanity at large. You must relinquish your power. You are not right in the head.' They would most likely say that your inferior opinion is of no consequence to them. What would you do then? You see, this is precisely the s*** creek we are up.

    1. Hollis Evon Ramsey

      i wouldn't mistake arrogance and verbosity for brilliance. jos would LIKE to be brilliant and tries to seem so, but he's not all that.

  20. Clifford William Thomas

    I think I've seen this, some of them are autistic? Good documentary if that is what it is.

  21. Placeboaddict

    Really interesting doc... I wonder if Newton or Leonardo had autistic syndromes.

    Teach these kids computer coding fast! :)

    1. truth

      it's possible... newton did obsess on different things... math, physics, the bible, alchemy (he died with tons of mercury in his body)... i think he also died an unmarried virgin

  22. Khushwant Sahota

    interesting to see why chinese are so good at maths...

  23. Khushwant Sahota

    I really enjoyed it. Thanks Vlatko.

  24. leonardobdas

    I found interesting how the asperger's kid would always find a rational way of explaining why he was so emotionless... which seems like the expression of an emotion to me.

  25. tone_deaf

    Yes his separation would be part of his asperger's. I don't believe it's intentional to ''do what ever is unexpected or inappropriate...''. As the interviewers questions are directed in pointing out that his thinking isn't based on emotion but practicality.
    @testicularfortitude, like one of the other contending kids had said, something along the lines that there is more to life than the competition. So i wouldn't read too much into @wald0's last paragraph. This same opinion was expressed a couple of times by the kids themselves.

    Very fascinating documentary. Even with some degree of Asperger's, like some of them have, how wonderful to be so gifted in that area. Only feel sad to hear they would be outcasted in their schools because of their intelligence.

  26. wald0

    I thought I was a math guy until I watched this documentary. These guys are so far ahead of me I can't even understand the problems, much less solve them. I think the guy that had Asperger's syndrome, the really rude and cold guy that is the main character, puts on a little. It seems that he realizes he gets an odd reaction from people when he refuses to show compassion or love for his parents, or when he is detatched from social situations, like he just wants to do what ever is unexpected or inappropriate so he can seperate himself from everyone else. Its llike he wants everyone to think he must know something they don't. I don't know though, maybe thats all just part of the illness.

    These guys are inspirational to a degree, but there is more to life. Mathematics, sciences of all kinds in fact, engineering, law, medicine- these are fine pursuits and are neccessary to sustain life- but passion, emotion, experience these are why we sustain life in the first place.

    1. testicularfortitude

      your last that how one console oneself when confronted by others of superior abilities? oh, please tell me as I have yet to find myself in such demoralizing situation...

    2. jugy

      i havent watched the doc yet so i dont know to which extent these guys have problems socializing. However, i must agree with wald0. Im sure any kid, teen or adult would trade anything to laugh, share and enjoy pleasurable situations with other human beings. After all, you cant kiss math, you cant touch math, you cant eat, joke, drink, dance etc with math. You can only interact with it mentally.
      Society values IQ just as much as EQ, therefore, it would be wrong to dismiss either one as important. More than that, i believe testicularfortitude, you read too much into Wald0's comment. I believe he is supporting the idea of having a balance in life rather than just being really really good at something and really really bad at something else.

    3. 0zyxcba1

      If you "havent watched the doc yet," then I suggest you do.

    4. Ingrid McCarthy

      Well, it's not like the kids with Asperger's have a choice in the matter. It's a condition. They don't get to "choose" to interact normally.

    5. wald0

      I have no need to console myself; I am just as good at other things as these guys are at math- besides, that’s not how I judge my own worth. I was simply stating the fact that I feel bad for people that can't socialize or even operate in public due to a lack of empathy or self esteem. Much as I feel bad for people that find it "demoralizing" to meet someone that has superior abilities in some particular field.

      The sad thing is you have met someone that was better than you at something, unless you live under a rock. I would assume your failure to recognize their superior abilities has something to do with finding that prospect "demoralizing". You might want to talk with someone about that, someone with superior skills in psychology perhaps. By the way, if you are just as good or better, according to your own implications, at mathematics as these guys, why aren’t you in the documentary?

    6. leonardobdas

      but since most people are quite average(or worse) at both the sciences and the emotional spectrums.... it seems to me that to have aspergers and be good in one of them is an advantage...

    7. leonardobdas

      I am friends with a couple, both aspergers folks. they are both in their 40s and have trained themselves to feel emotions. They said that for most of their 20s they would laugh at jokes only to try to fit in, but could not see the humour in it. Now their brains have learned how to feel emotions and they are totally normal people with satisfying social lives.

    8. Jean-François Mongrain

      He refuses to show compassion and love for his parents... like most teenagers. His way of expressing his adolescence crisis is expressed by a withrawal into logic and practical thinking, the result of having Asperger's syndrome, but the core reaction for his parents is perfectly normal for a young man of his age, it seems to me.