Directed by Michael Apted
Starring Jodie Foster
Reviewed by Tyrion Perkins
Nell is a movie to make you think. It is a fascinating story about a woman raised in total isolation from society by a speech-impaired mother.
Her mother lived as a hermit in the forest in North Carolina. Upon her death, the sheriff and doctor find she had a daughter, Nell (brilliantly played by Jodie Foster).
Nell is terrified of strangers and unable to communicate in English. The doctor, Jerome Lovell (Liam Neeson), takes her case to psychologist Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson). Olsen believes Nell should be put in an institution. Lovell fights against this, and the court allows them three months to observe Nell and assess her abilities.
The story revolves around the relationship between the three. Olsen observes from a boat on the nearby lake using a video. Lovell takes a more interactive approach, attempting to learn to communicate with her.
The idea for this movie came from a play which intrigued producer Renee Missel. She saw Nell as a "soul catcher" who reconnects people with their souls or disowned aspects of their personalities. This is the main theme of the movie.
Finding this woman they see as deprived of a real life, one wants to protect her, the other wants a PhD from studying her. Instead they find it is Nell who teaches them to fully interact with others and enjoy life again.
But this is not a simple story. I find myself thinking and rethinking about it. It is a beautifully shot movie, enhanced by the forest setting. But most interestingly, it raises questions about the effects of society on the individual and about social interaction.