Nell (film)

Nell (film)

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
Music by Mark Isham
Cinematography Dante Spinotti
Editing by Jim Clark
Studio Egg Pictures
PolyGram Filmed Entertainment
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) December 23, 1994 (1994-12-23)
Running time 113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $106,683,817[1]

Nell is a 1994 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 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 a Screen Actors Guild Award.



When stroke victim Violet Kellty dies in her home in the North Carolina forest, the town doctor, Jerry Lovell (Liam Neeson), finds a terrified young woman 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, he finds a note asking whoever finds it to look after her daughter, Nell. The sheriff shows him a news clipping from which he surmises that Nell (Jodie Foster) is the dead woman’s daughter, conceived by a rapist.

Jerry seeks the help of Dr. Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson), a researcher working with autistic children. Paula and her colleague Dr. Paley are interested in studying a "wild child" and Dr. Paley continues to call her this even after studying films of her which show she doesn't fit the "wild child" profile. They immediately get a court order giving them permission to institutionalize Nell for "further study". Lovell is warned just in time to get his own lawyer and prevent it. After legal maneuvering, a judge gives Olsen and Lovell 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; Jerry just sits in the house and listens to Nell.

Almost immediately Paula discovers that Nell's language is English, based partly on her mother's aphasic speech after a stroke. Jerry and Paula begin a grudging friendship, although he detests her coldly clinical, analytical tactics.

Nell sleeps during the day or works inside her home, and is active outdoors only after sunset. She explains 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 "ga'inja" her mother promised would come. Jerry later realizes that "ga'inja" is guardian angel. In addition, Nell leads Jerry and Paula to the remains of a young child—it turns out that Nell once had a twin sister, Milly, who died in a fall while the two were once playing in the woods. Nell treats Milly's remains with reverence and love, rather than horror.

When Jerry and Paula bring Nell into town for the first time, she befriends the sheriff's depressed wife, but also has an ugly encounter in a pool hall with some raunchy boys. Word of Nell's existence gets out via a reporter who overhears the same boys in the pool hall talking about her, which forces Jerry and Paula to spirit her away to the hospital to get her away from the press. There, Nell becomes extremely despondent and unresponsive. Jerry removes her from the hospital and hides her in a hotel. Paula joins him, and at last they admit they love each other.

At the court hearing the next day, Paula's colleague Dr. Paley, who wants to study her in a controlled environment, delivers the expert opinion that she has Asperger syndrome and belongs in an institution. Jerry angrily interrupts several times. At last Nell comes forward to speak for herself, something even her friends didn't expect.

The last scenes take place five years later, as Jerry and Paula bring their own daughter to visit Nell in her house; it is Nell's birthday, and she is surrounded by friends from the town.

Production history

[attribution needed]

Jodie Foster originally hired Mary Steenburgen for the role of Nell. Foster was set to direct and it was a project to be directed by her. However, Michael Apted preferred to direct and offered the role to Natasha Richardson. Within a few weeks prior to production, Foster accepted the part of Nell and Richardson was cast as Paula Olsen. The role of Paula, however was originally offered to Christina Applegate, and later to Bridget Fonda. Nell was filmed in North Carolina including the town of Robbinsville and the city of Charlotte.


Critical reaction

Reviews were lukewarm, 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."[2] 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." She also wished the movie would have explored Nell's adult sexuality.[3] 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.[4] The movie currently holds a 53% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Box office

The film debuted with $5.7 million.[5] It eventually grossed $33.6 million domestically while bringing over $73 million around the world to a total of $106.6 million worldwide.



  1. ^ "Nell at Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 2010-09-29. 
  2. ^ Rita Kempley, 'Nell', Washington Post, December 25, 1994, Accessed January 6, 2011.
  3. ^ Janet Maslin, FILM REVIEW: NELL; A Woman Within a Wild Child, As Revealed by Jodie Foster, The New York Times, December 14, 1994, Accessed January 6, 2011.
  4. ^ Roger Ebert, Nell, Chicago Sun-Times, December 23, 1994, Accessed January 6, 2011.
  5. ^ "Dumb' Laughs = a Smart Payoff : Box office: Jim Carrey vehicle pulls a 'Gump,' taking in $16.2 million on an otherwise slow film-going weekend.". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-31. 

External links

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