I was reading a very interesting paper about how society views and recognizes genius and the author-- in my opinion, correctly-- states that we have a very strong tendency to attribute genius or preternatural intelligence to people who are in some way damaged. That is, when someone has some kind of visible dysfunction, we are much more likely to describe that person as a genius, and to look upon their thoughts, ideas, and artwork as emblematic of genius quality. Some examples in film and TV:
[li] Rainman, who is autistic[/li][li] Amadeus, a man who displays unusual levels of childishness, arrogance, and immaturity (of course, in sharp contrast to the tone of his work)[/li][li] House, whose character inexplicably has a cane and limps around with it[/li][li] Bones, who has some kind of personality disorder that make it hard for her to communicate in a normal fashion[/li][li] and so on…[/li][/ul]
Obviously, this list could be a lot bigger, and could contain hundreds of people who haven’t been depicted in movies. My question is this: can you name a single movie that depicts someone who is clearly supposed to be a genius, but who is not damaged/eccentric/having some kind of disorder/depicted as being very different from the people around him/her?
I think it is hard for a person to be portrayed as being a ‘genius’ without highlighting some unusual behavior. Otherwise, the person would merely be ‘smart’. In most folks minds, the word ‘genius’ connotes a certain oddness.
In the real world, the folks I have encountered who have been characterized as ‘genius’ have all been somewhat odd in their behavior.
I believe ‘damaged’ may be too strong of a word for this.
‘Eccentric’ might be better, but I am reminded that the difference between ‘eccentric’ and ‘crazy’ usually involves wealthiness.
How about the classic 1980s gem “Real Genius”. It features several geniuses that while they have been quirky were not damaged. Indeed the lead managed to combine being cool, overachieving and a slacker all at once somehow.
Also the movie “I.Q.” with Walter Matthau as Einstein would probably count as not not damaged.
This is so close to what I think that I will just add, as the OP requests, the idea that Sherlock Holmes may have appeared damaged in the era he was written, and later in the earlier 20th century, for the cocaine addiction and for some anti-social quirks. But as he is presented in more recent movies, his genius is pretty straightforward and “eccentric” is as far as I would personally go in belittling or playing down his gifts.
The offshoot detectives with similar deductive skills have been “bad boys” more than defective. Whether they rise to genius level is debatable, but the image of the supersleuth – since Holmes – is rather positive, I believe.
I agree with the OP that such a depiction is rare, and I think I know why: it would be boring.
Can you imagine how boring Superman would be if there were no kryptonite? Drama requires conflict, and someone who is just smart/strong/fast/whatever enough to solve any problem easily would make for some mighty tedious fiction.
Charly was undamaged when he was a genius. The problem occurred when he stopped being one.
Dr. Zarkov in th Flash Gordon series wasn’t damaged, either.
I don’t see any particular damage for Ozymandius in Watchmen. He’s not psychopathic – he knows the suffering he will cause – and he seems fairly well-adjusted otherwise.
Robert Downey, Jr.'s Depp’s portrayal of Charlie Chaplin didn’t focus on the dark side of her personality at all. Even his early life in poverty is not used as a sign that’s something wrong with him (Chaplin himself didn’t seem too damaged by it; once he grew up, he acknowledged it, but didn’t brood over it).
If we’re talking about artistic genius, there’s Cagney’s portrayal of George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Matthew Broderick in Godzilla
Leo G. Carroll in Tarantula (until he was accidentally injected with his own growth serum).
Edmund Gwenn and Joan Whedon in Them!
Raj is fairly damaged, not being able to talk to women at all without drinking first is damaged I think. Howard is not actually a genius I believe. So that leaves Leonard if he is a genius and if him then Leslie Winkle is also undamaged.
Are they geniuses or just very bright and well educated?
Sheldon is clearly a genius but also extremely damaged, along the lines of Monk.
Prof. Falken from WarGames was basically a benevolent genius. He was a recluse, but not the “damaged” kind that lives in bitterness and squalor. He was a self-exile, inspired by his shame at having created WOPR.
Of course, as Gagundathar pointed out, wealth allows one to adapt one’s circumstances. Falken lived in a largeish, elegant home in a remote spot, so presumably he was set for life from his government work.
Going away from movies to real life - can you think of a genius who is obviously the way he* is due to his environment and not his psychic makeup?
I would suspect such people were disproportionately, maybe even overwhelmingly, from backgrounds where intellectual achievement is an imperative - and that those backgrounds are more likely to be ethnic or national (eg: immigrant Asians, European or American Jews) than just familial (eg: being born into a family of Nobel laureates or Rhodes scholars).
*Pardon the gendered pronoun, but understand that many more geniuses are male than female. It’s the same with those of lower mental acuity. I think I read this in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.