Director: Michael Apted
Writers: William Nicholson and Mark Handley
Jodie Foster as Nell Kellty
Liam Neeson as Dr. Jerome "Jerry" Lovell
Natasha Richardson as Dr. Paula Olsen
The film "Nell" tells the story of a woman who was raised in the cabin that was isolated from the society. She was reared by her mother who was incapacitated with stroke. Because of this condition, her mother obtained "speech distortion" in which she adapted.
Nell was called as the "wild woman" and her way of living was thoroughly observed and studied by specialists such as Dr. Jerry and Dr. Paula. They studied every gesture she made and every syllable she said until they were able to decipher what she was trying to convey. The movie also presented the debate on whether Nell should be left to live in the wild, or be integrated in the city life. In the end, she was returned to her home.
The film shows the relevance of language in our lives and the factors that affect its development. It is innate among us human beings to express our thoughts and emotion. There is a strong need for us to communicate and we have several ways of doing it. We have the spoken and written language. We also communicate through gestures and facial expression. When we were babies, our cries would mean that we need something or we feel pain. We smile when we are satisfied. As we grow, we begin to point to things and speak syllables. Then later we can say a word until such time that we can speak sentences.
Aside from the innate need for communication and expression, we also learn from our speech community. Nell could express what she wanted or what she needed. However, she did not have any human interaction, aside from what she had with her paralyzed mother. If Nell had live with a person, who spoke in a regular and clear manner, then she could have learned from that person.
In this film, doctors and specialists conducted a thorough study on her case. They tried to win her trust to come out to the outside world. However, Nell communicated her fear and anxiety by shouting, running or hugging herself. It took them some time to finally take her outside her house during daytime. As the movie was progressing to the climax, Jerry and Paula were able to decipher the words that Nell spoke. They were able to teach her the correct pronunciation through modeling and imitation. Behaviorist's Theory on reward and punishment was shown specifically on the part where Nell was taught how to say, "I want."
The film implies that we are not totally "blank slates" when we were born. There are already innate capabilities within us. However, these innate behavior and capabilities are not enough. We need to interact with other people in order for us to learn, to live and to survive.
"Even caring has an ulterior motive." - Dr. Paley