The Real Young Man With 'A Brilliant Young Mind'

A Brilliant Young Mind is the kind of movie that makes you tear up just by watching the trailer because the story is so compelling. The film stars Asa Butterfield as a young British boy named Nathan who struggles intensely with social situations but finds a sense of belonging in the world of competitive mathematics. Did filmmakers simply dream up this beautifully complex character and his journey? Or is it possible that Nathan in A Brilliant Young Mind is a real person?

Amazingly, Nathan is in fact based on a real man, and his name is Daniel Lightwing. The British 26-year-old is a mathematical genius who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (formerly known as Asperger's Syndrome), which is defined by the DSM-V as "persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts." Lightwing was not diagnosed until age 16 even though he had always had difficulty understanding social norms and engaging with other people, which led to feelings of isolation. A formal diagnosis helped him understand that he is not defective but simply has a different perspective and skill set — one of which happens to be an innate talent for mathematics.

A Brilliant Young Mind is based on Lightwing's story of realizing his potential and subsequently competing in the International Maths Olympiad. It's a truly moving tale, and reminds me of some other phenomenally talented individuals who overcame great barriers to achieve greatness. Here are some of my favorite biopics about geniuses, in the vein of A Brilliant Young Mind.

The Theory Of Everything

Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for his portrayal of physicist Stephen Hawking. The movie was based on the book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Hawking's ex-wife Jane, and it emphasized their love and struggles amidst Stephen's ALS and simultaneous career successes. If you say you didn't cry at this movie, you are a dirty liar.

A Beautiful Mind

Based on the biography of the same name, this movie follows the life of Nobel Laureate John Nash. Nash was a prodigious scholar who also suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and the film explores Nash's struggle to balance his mental health with his personal and professional lives. It won the Oscar for Best Picture, as well as a variety of other awards.


This 1984 film tells the story of legendary composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, although its historical accuracy has been the subject of many a heated debate. You might recognize the actor who plays Mozart as none other than Pinto from Animal House; Tom Pulce portrayed the musical genius six years after the National Lampoon movie immortalized the concept of a toga party.

The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch starred in this critically-acclaimed adaptation of the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma. Turing was a cryptanalyst for the British government during World War Two, and the film details his top-secret work decrypting German intelligence codes while in a hostile war environment. It was also praised as an LGBT film, as Turing was gay in a time and setting when homosexuality was heavily persecuted.

A Brilliant Young Mind is therefore the most recent development in a niche genius biopics which emphasize the humanity of the subjects as much as their brilliance. Lightwing himself endorsed the movie, telling the Evening Standard, “it is about how there are lots of different kinds of people, how they are valuable, can do great things and be part of society. It shows Asperger’s in a good light but there are comedy elements that make it a film for everyone to enjoy.”

So even if you're someone whose only interest in math is using Pi Day as an excuse to eat dessert, you still have plenty of reasons to go see A Brilliant Young Mind.

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