Intelligence Is A Curse

This article will be half review, half personal.

Gifted is a great movie, in my opinion. Far from perfect, but even farther from being low-quality. I watched this movie the first time with my wife leisurely, and then a second time to review it. The second time, I nearly forgot that I was watching it for review. My wife and I both enjoyed this movie. It has a few problems, but nothing headache-inducing. I was prompted to watch this movie because I knew it was about a father and his daughter; a subject that I have a soft spot for. (My wife and I have wanted a daughter since before we met each other, and in just a couple of months, we will have one.)

This movie is about a 7-year-old (strangely portrayed by a 9-year-old), who is a mathematical genius, being caught in a custody battle between her guardian uncle and her grandmother. The custody battle is due to the fact that the girl is a genius, and her uncle wants her to have a normal life instead of drowning in academics her whole life. You see, the girl’s mother lived that life, and ended up committing suicide because of it.

The acting is excellent (4/5 stars across the board). McKenna Grace’s acting skill, especially for a child actor, is 5/5 stars. The story is rather predictable, including unrealistic at times, but still enjoyable. Far too much shaky-cam for a non-action movie. Lastly, I’d say that there’s no great lesson to get from the story, except maybe that it seems to be about living life as we are meant to be. “With great power, comes great responsibility” was basically the message. Oh, so THAT’S why they chose one of the Spider-Man directors to direct this movie.

I liked this movie for the same reason we all like movies. A little escapism, for the purpose of enriching real life.

This child prodigy in the movie, named Mary, reminded me a lot of … me. I grew up being told by everyone that I have exceptional intelligence and that I should put it to better use. I took two college-level classes before I even started high school. Growing up, I was always ahead of my class particularly when it came to science and math.

But I never enjoyed it. I never wanted to be smart.

One of the things that bothered me in Gifted, is that Mary never outright says what she wants in life, whether that’s growing up normal, or growing up challenging her genius. She says she doesn’t want to attend a normal school, that kids her age are boring, etc., but she never explicitly says what she wants to do with her time. She reads and does math problems at home because it was all there was to do.

Another similarity to my own life.

My older sister once told me that I used to play alone, studying rocks, rather than playing with my siblings or other kids my age. I remember reading books every chance I got, especially when they were science books. I’ve always been above-average with mathematics, but not even close to the level that Mary is in Gifted. And like Mary, I had a hard time understanding how to interact with normal people. I wanted to learn, because I’ve always loved learning.

I never wanted people to know about it, though. I didn’t want to put my intellect on display so that everyone was impressed. I simply wanted to know things, and leave them at that. And that’s the way I still am, 20+ years later.

Still, it proved impossible to hide my intellect. Everyone hated being corrected by me, everyone hated that I found out the answers to my teachers’ questions first. They all took it personally, including my siblings. Everyone thought I was trying to be superior to them, when the truth is, I wanted everyone to have the same knowledge I have. Again, that’s still the way I am today. When I don’t know something, I ask questions and dwell on the question. When I do know something, I try to share it. Most of the time, people either don’t care, or they get irritated that I figured something out before them.

My point is, there are various types of intellects out there. Not everyone who has a great mind is proud of it. My own mind I consider to be my curse. In Gifted, Mary never expresses disappointment that she’s not normal, but if that were me, I’d hate being a genius. Whether it’s her fictional character, or my real life experiences, we both have had to, at some point, endure problems in our lives simply for being smart. Mary’s problem was that people wanted to force her into better schools, and my problem was that nobody loved knowledge as much as I did.

You can’t be different and expect to have the same kind of life as everyone else.

Mary’s mother committed suicide before the movie’s story began. It never outright explains why (only implies), but I have my own theory. My theory was that Mary’s mother, who was also a mathematical genius, found her genius to be a curse. A curse she didn’t want to live with anymore. I can relate to that as well.

I was only a teenager when I realized, through sheer pondering and philosophical study, that there is no god. I became an atheist overnight, and immediately fell into a deep depression. I saw the world for what it is, finally. It’s depressing to know that there’s no greater purpose to the universe, or that tomorrow is never guaranteed, or that when you die it’s truly the end of your existence. I could list dozens of other depressing things I figured out during this time, but point is, the truth is depressing. Smart people understand that best.

So, all in all, smart people have to live with knowing more than most (especially the depressing stuff). They have to constantly be on a different page than everyone else, which at minimum is frustrating. Intelligence is a curse. Socrates was executed for being smarter than most.

Truth is, I don’t know what I’d do if my daughter turned out to be a genius. My wife has several times stated that she hopes our daughter gets my brains. I hope my daughter is smart, but honestly, not too smart, because I don’t want her to be cursed as well. If my daughter is highly intelligent, I’m going to worry. I don’t want her to understand the depressing truths about life until she’s ready to know. I figured it out much too early. My former best friend’s little sister also figured things out early and she also suffered from severe depression because of it.

How do you balance your desire for your child to be exceptional, with the knowledge that being exceptional could be harmful?

Keep your innocence, baby girl. Play with dolls, read about dinosaurs. Believe in superheroes. Believe in dragons and magic. See what you want to see, before you see the darkness. Don’t understand everything too soon. Have your innocence for as long as you can.

A post shared by Brian Eberly (@brianeberly) on

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