Nell (film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Nell (1994 film poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Michael Apted
Produced by Jodie Foster
Renee Missel
Graham Place
Written by William Nicholson
Mark Handley
Based on Idioglossia 
by Mark Handley
Starring Jodie Foster
Liam Neeson
Natasha Richardson
Richard Libertini
Nick Searcy
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography Dante Spinotti
Edited by Jim Clark
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • December 16, 1994 (1994-12-16)
Running time
113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $106,683,817[1]

Nell is a 1994 American drama film starring Jodie Foster as a young woman who has to face other people for the first time after being raised by her mother in an isolated cabin. The film also co-starred Liam Neeson, Natasha Richardson, Richard Libertini, and Nick Searcy. The film was directed by Michael Apted, and was based on Mark Handley's play Idioglossia. The original music score is composed by Mark Isham. Foster was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for her role. She also won the first Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress.

The film was given a limited release on December 16, 1994, before expanding into wide release on December 23, 1994.


When stroke victim Violet Kellty dies in her isolated cabin in the North Carolina mountains, Dr. Jerome "Jerry" Lovell (Liam Neeson), the town doctor, finds a terrified young woman (Jodie Foster) hiding in the rafters of the house. She speaks angrily and rapidly but seems to have a language of her own. Looking at Violet's Bible, Jerry finds a note asking whoever finds it to look after the woman, who is Violet's daughter Nell. Sheriff Todd Peterson (Nick Searcy) shows Jerry a news clipping from which Jerry surmises that Nell is indeed the dead woman’s daughter, conceived through rape.

Jerry seeks the help of Dr. Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson), a researcher working with autistic children. Paula and her colleague Dr. Alexander "Al" Paley (Richard Libertini) are interested in studying a "wild child" (feral child), and Al continues calling Nell this even after studying films showing that Nell does not fit the "wild child" profile. Paula and Al immediately get a court order giving them permission to institutionalize Nell for "further study". Jerry, who is warned just in time, hires lawyer Don Fontana (O'Neal Compton) and prevents it. After legal maneuvering, a judge (Joe Inscoe) gives Jerry and Paula three months to interact with Nell and see what her actual needs are. Paula shows up on a houseboat with electronic equipment to monitor Nell's behavior while Jerry chooses to stay in Nell's cabin and quietly observe.

Almost immediately, Paula discovers that Nell's seemingly indecipherable language is in fact English, based partly on her mother's aphasic speech after a stroke, and partly on the secret language she shared with her decades deceased identical twin sister. Jerry and Paula begin a grudging friendship, although Jerry detests Paula's coldly clinical, analytical tactics.

Nell sleeps during the day or works inside her home and is active outdoors only after sunset. She explains to Jerry that her mother told her about the rape and warned her that men were evildoers, citing Isaiah 1:4. As Nell comes to trust Jerry, she sees him as a friend, the "gah'inja" her mother promised would come. Jerry later realizes that "gah'inja" is Nell's phrase for "guardian angel." Using popcorn as an incentive, Jerry is able to lead Nell outside and into the sun. Afterward, Nell leads Jerry and Paula to the decayed remains of a young child – it turns out that Nell once had an identical twin sister, May, who died in a fall while the two were playing in the woods. Nell treats May's remains with reverence and love, rather than with horror.

Not long after, Mike Ibarra (Sean Bridgers), a reporter, learns of Nell's existence and visits her cabin. Nell is curious of the visitor at first, but when he snaps a photo, the flash frightens Nell. At that moment, Jerry arrives and throws the reporter out. The incident sparks an argument between Jerry and Paula. Paula believes that Nell would be safer in a hospital, while Jerry feels that Nell should be left alone and allowed to live as she pleases. The two decide that Nell should be shown a little of the world, and they make the decision to bring Nell into town.

While in town, Nell befriends Mary (Robin Mullins), Todd's depressed wife, but also has an ugly encounter in a pool hall with some raunchy boys until Jerry gets her out. Word of Nell's existence spreads, prompting increased intrusion by the press, and Jerry and Paula have to spirit Nell away to a hospital for her protection. There, Nell becomes extremely despondent and unresponsive. Jerry removes her from the hospital and hides her in a hotel. Paula joins him, and the two admit that they love each other.

At the court hearing the next day, Al, who wants to study Nell in a controlled environment, delivers his opinion that Nell has Asperger syndrome and belongs in an institution. Jerry angrily interrupts several times. Nell then comes forward and, with Jerry interpreting, speaks for herself, an action even her friends did not expect.

The last scenes take place five years later, as Jerry and Paula, by now a couple, bring their daughter, Ruthie, to visit Nell in her house. It is Nell's birthday, and friends from the town surround her. The film ends with Jerry and Paula watching Nell and Ruthie play from afar.


Production history[edit]

Jodie Foster was originally set to direct and intended to hire Mary Steenburgen for the role of Paula; however, eventually Michael Apted took over as director and offered the role to Natasha Richardson. Christina Applegate and Bridget Fonda were also approached regarding the role of Paula, but within a few weeks prior to production, Richardson was cast and Foster accepted the role of Nell. Production took place in North Carolina, including the town of Robbinsville and the city of Charlotte.


Box office[edit]

The film debuted with $5.7 million.[2] It eventually grossed $33.6 million domestically while bringing over $73 million around the world to a total of $106.6 million worldwide.

Critical reaction[edit]

Reviews were mixed, praising the stars' performances while expressing disappointment in the storyline. Jodie Foster was given high marks. The Washington Post's review noted that "Jodie Foster, transcendent in the bravura title role, is far grander than the film itself, and her performance helps camouflage the weaknesses of its structure and the naivete of its themes."[3] In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin noted that: "For all its technical brilliance, not even Ms. Foster's intense, accomplished performance in the title role holds much surprise. The wild-child story of "Nell" unfolds in unexpectedly predictable ways, clinging fiercely to the banal thought that Nell's innocence makes her purer than anyone else in the story." Maslin also wished the film had explored Nell's adult sexuality.[4] Roger Ebert liked the movie, commenting that "Despite its predictable philosophy, however, Nell is an effective film, and a moving one." He also singled out the performances of Foster and Neeson.[5] The film currently holds a score of 53% on Rotten Tomatoes.[6]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Subject Nominee Result
Academy Awards Best Actress Jodie Foster Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Nominated
MTV Movie Awards Best Female Performance Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Best Leading Actress Won
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Won
Golden Screen Awards Best Actress Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Motion Picture - Drama Nominated
Renee Missel Nominated
Graham Place Nominated
Best Original Score Mark Isham Nominated


  1. ^ "Nell at Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  2. ^ Thomas, Kevin (December 21, 1994). "Dumb' Laughs = a Smart Payoffers : Box office: Jim Carreys (bumble bee tuna) vehicle pulls a 'Gump,' taking in $16.2 million on an otherwise slow film-going weekend.". Los Angeles Times. 
  3. ^ Kempley, Rita (December 25, 1994). "Nell". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 6, 2011. 
  4. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 14, 1994). "Nell (1994) FILM REVIEW: NELL; A Woman Within a Wild Child, As Revealed by Jodie Foster". The New York Times. Retrieved January 6, 2011. 
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 23, 1994). "Nell". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved January 6, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Nell". Rotten Tomatoes. 

External links[edit]