Nash and Alicia leave from New York on a ship, the Queen Mary, which reaches Paris on July 20, 1959. Alicia hopes that their stay in Paris will be temporary and that it might offer a “cure” for Nash, but she soon realizes that the city might become their new home. That summer, Paris is a hotbed: a site of demonstrations, strikes, and explosions. These tensions animate Nash, who believes that he is acting with “a heightened sense of purpose” and “special” government knowledge. He also hopes to “shed the layers of old his identity”—the famous Cambridge math professor—in Paris, carving out a new place for himself in the world.
Alicia hopes that Paris will serve as a temporary refuge for Nash, but Nash—motivated by delusional beliefs—is determined to start his life over in Paris, becoming an anonymous citoyen du monde: a “citizen of the world.” Though Nash’s desire to “shed” his old identity and discover a new one is a result of his schizophrenia, it also reflects a desire he has possessed throughout his life, even before he began experiencing schizophrenic symptoms. Nash has always been compelled to find meaning in the world, seeking out new solutions to difficult problems. Now, the “problem” in question has become his own identity.
Nash hopes to follow in the footsteps of Garry Davis, a Broadway actor and former bomber pilot who renounced his American citizenship in 1948 at the U.S. embassy in Paris. By attempting to renounce his own American citizenship, Nash makes clear the “radical sense of alienation” at the heart of his illness. Nash travels to the U.S. embassy in Luxembourg, where it is less likely that turning in his American citizenship will result in his arrest. However, Nash’s request to give in his passport is denied; he later formulates a plan to move to Switzerland, a country he “associated with neutrality, world citizenship, and Einstein.” Nash’s friends, family, and colleagues realize that Nash’s stint at McLean has not slowed the onset of his illness.
Schizophrenia causes individuals to lose their grip on reality, severing their connection to the world. Nash’s desire to renounce his American citizenship reflects the sense of “alienation” his disease has caused: it has disrupted his life, prompting him to feel disconnected from his own identity as an American.
Nash and Alicia arrive in Geneva on an overnight train from Paris in 1959. Alicia leaves almost immediately to stay with a friend in Italy, leaving Nash alone in a small hotel for five months, where he writes “letters that would never be answered” and fills out “endless forms, applications, and petitions that would be filed away.” Nash’s search for a new identity, and for “meaning, control, and recognition in the context of a continuing struggle” with the conflicting parts of his ”paradoxical self,” seems to be similar to his search for mathematical insights. But now, he finds himself at the whims of his own thoughts, unable to control them or find order in them, as he once had.
Nash’s frantic attempts to obtain refugee status in various European countries speak to an impulse he has always had as a mathematician: his desire to make “meaning” and order out of his own mind, solving problems through flashes of insight. As he begins to experience psychotic episodes, Nash’s “problem” becomes his own American nationality; he has become irrationally paranoid that being an American is a threat to his own safety. Whereas Nash was once able to harness the power of his mind to solve difficult mathematical problems, his schizophrenia makes it impossible for him to solve the problems that he believes he is facing; he is trapped by his own delusions.
Nash hopes to obtain refugee status from the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, but his request is denied: he is advised to contact the Swiss police with an asylum petition. Authorities in Geneva find that Nash hasn’t committed any crimes that would force the American government to strip him of his citizenship, and they threaten to deport Nash. Meanwhile, Nash begins to feel caught between two different, contradictory identities: an “abject petitioner” and a “religious figure of great, but secret, importance.” Finally, in the fall, Nash destroys his own passport and refuses to apply for a new one.
Nash’s schizophrenia splits his personality: sometimes, he believes that is a helpless “petitioner” in need of government assistance; at other times, he believes that he is a “religious figure,” a kind of Messiah endowed with great knowledge and abilities. Though these are delusions, Nash’s personality shines through his psychosis. As a saner man, he believed himself to be endowed with great knowledge and abilities, suggesting that even as schizophrenia severs Nash’s connections to reality, it also heightens his experience of himself, making it difficult for him to extricate himself from its detrimental, insidious influence.
In Italy, Alicia enjoys a holiday with her friend and begins to recapture some of her “old lighthearted, girlish self.” After, she returns to Paris to try to make arrangements for her mother and child to come to France. Nash and Alicia’s son is christened Washington, D.C., without his parents present; Alicia decides to name him John Charles Martin Nash.
In Italy, away from Nash, Alicia is able to have some time to herself, but this sojourn is brief. Because Alicia has followed Nash to Europe in order to take care of him, she has been forced to leave her own very young child behind—a tragedy that speaks to her intense commitment to Nash and the sacrifices she makes for his well-being.
Nash is arrested in December under a deportation order, but he refuses to return to the United States. Alicia arrives in Geneva to take Nash back to Paris, after which they will return to the United States, but Nash refuses to leave the Geneva jail in which he is being held. Eventually, he is escorted onto a train by police officers. In Paris, life seems to proceed somewhat normally: Alicia holds a Christmas party attended by several mathematicians, but after Alicia’s mother leaves Paris, leaving her alone with her child, she begins to feel overwhelmed again.
Nash is still very ill, and he does not seem to be recovering, despite Alicia’s patience and sacrifices. His persistent efforts to forfeit his American citizenship and obtain refugee status cause significant difficulties for Alicia, who is at the end of her rope.
Nash is issued a temporary residence permit in France before his return to the U.S., but he is still determined to obtain refugee status. At one point, he travels to East Germany, where he is permitted to enter as a refugee, though his request for asylum is eventually turned down. Back in Paris, Nash continues to write and send nonsensical letters to his former colleagues. Alicia and Nash are quickly running out of money: eventually, Virginia Nash wires funds to Paris to finance Nash’s deportation, and Nash is escorted to the airport by the French police.
Alicia is unable to bring Nash back to Paris without police intervention, though Nash is still able to escape briefly to East Germany—a situation that emphasizes the exhausting position Alicia is in as Nash’s wife and primary caretaker.