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A Brilliant Young Mind

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
A Brilliant Young Mind Movie Poster Image
Affecting drama about math whiz tackles loss, special needs.
  • PG-13
  • 2015
  • 111 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 4 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Tragedy can make you stronger. Even those who face extra challenges can succeed if they have the help and support of those who genuinely have your best interests in mind.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nathan's father is remembered and shown as an empathetic, funny, patient man who understands how to communicate with his son, who has special needs. Nathan's mother isn't quite as able, but she clearly cares deeply for her son and wants to learn how to reach him. Nathan's tutor is rough around the edges, but he only has Nathan's best interests in mind. And though Nathan has special needs, he is also shares the concerns of other teenagers.


A car accident involving a father and his young son is shown in fairly realistic manner; it's harrowing to experience as a viewer, especially seeing the aftermath through the eyes of a very young boy and his grief-stricken mother. One character is shown scratching his arms with a mathematical compass until he bleeds. An adult has a screaming fight with a teenage girl.


Teenagers kiss awkwardly. Inexperienced adults also kiss. Flirting.


Fairly frequent, and sometimes spoken by adults in front of teens. Words include "s--t," "f--k," "damn," and "bastard."


Oxford University plays a prominent role.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Brilliant Young Mind is heartwarming but also quite frank about the emotional cost of losing a parent as a young child -- and how that can shape your outlook into adulthood. The movie explores grief and all sorts of emotions that go with it, including anger, making it best for teens and up; younger kids might find it too sad and intense. Expect some adolescent flirting and kissing, cursing (including "f--k," "s--t," and more), a harrowing car accident (and the very sad aftermath), and a disturbing scene in which a character is shown violently scratching himself with a very sharp instrument. The main character, a teen who's on the autism spectrum, has communication challenges, but all of the adults in his life try very hard to connect with him and have his best interests in mind.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byColin B. May 21, 2018

Covers a lot

Beautiful and sensitive in addressing very real issues kids and the adults in their lives go through. Positive AA group spin and the need for adult companionshi... Continue reading
Parent of a 9, 11, 15, and 17 year old Written byHadi S September 12, 2016

Swearing, sad, yet amazingly good

A Brilliant Young Mind is a compelling drama about a 15 year old mathematician with autism. I think it would be better for 14 year olds because of some depress... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byMcGuirePrice January 29, 2016

Autistic boy breaking through bariers

Asa hasn't performed this well since The Boy With The Striped Pajama. In this movie Nathan Ellis (Asa Butterfield) is a genius autistic boy who goes to com... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byNeon_Fish April 17, 2016

Love the movie

It's a great movie which covers many common ideals, including: Grief, aspergers, love, work, bullying, self-harm, jealousy, drugs, depression and disabilit... Continue reading

What's the story?

Nathan Ellis (Asa Butterfield) is a teenager who's fascinated with mathematics. He's so far ahead of his peers in the subject that he's picked to be part of the U.K.'s International Mathematical Olympiad team. But his participation isn't a done deal: It's contingent on him besting most of his peers during training in China. And Nathan also faces another challenge; he's on the autism spectrum, which sometimes makes it difficult for him to express himself and understand others. And everything is impacted by the fact that he still misses his father, who died in a car accident years ago (Nathan was a passenger). Nathan's mother (Sally Hawkins) doesn't quite know how to reach her son, but hiring a math genius (Rafe Spall) who once competed in the Olympiad himself has been good for the teen. But more change is in the offing.

Is it any good?

A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND isn't exactly brilliant, but it is a heartfelt, thought-provoking, well-acted drama. Central to the story is young Nathan's isolation, and Butterfield brings his character's complicated struggles to life in an authentic, heartbreaking way.

The film takes a detour to China, which is interesting and adds a layer of complexity to the plot -- but the characters Nathan meets there are, with one exception, very much single-note. Still, the film is a showcase for Butterield's talents, as well as those of the always-watchable Hawkins. Bottom line? A Brilliant Young Mind does a great job of exploring the world of a teenager on the autism spectrum, but the film could have used a more nuanced analysis of why Nathan approaches life the way he does. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how A Brilliant Young Mind handles the subject of autism. Do you think it's realistic? Relatable?

  • How does the film portray loss and grief? Why is losing is dad especially hard for Nathan?

  • Why do Nathan and his teammates feel such enormous pressure to succeed in mathematics? When does passion become something unhealthy?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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