A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Demonstrates the power of forgiveness and redemption. Themes also include compassion, perseverance, and teamwork.
Positive Role Models
Dr. James Murray lives by principle of diligence, as demonstrated by his pursuit of learning, dedication to his task, perseverance in doing right by Dr. William Minor even though his support of a criminally insane man could tarnish his own reputation. He's a good friend, looking beyond stigma of mental illness and past mistakes. Dr. Minor makes a tragic mistake during the throes of his terrifying delusion but does everything in his power to make up for it. Eliza Merrett finds there's a better place beyond hate and holding a grudge: love and forgiveness.
Violence & Scariness
An innocent man is chased with gunfire, then shot/killed in the street. Bloody, graphic battlefield wounds. A leg is impaled by a gate's spike; the bloody, gaping wound is shown, followed by off-camera amputation. A character self-harms; it's strongly implied that he's castrated himself. A character is branded on the face as a punishment. A character is forced to throw up repeatedly as a medical treatment. A lead character is terrorized by delusions that he's being stalked with intent to harm.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Love grows between a couple. Implication that a woman is attempting to prostitute herself.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Professor and the Madman is based on Simon Winchester's nonfiction best-seller about the strange-but-true friendship between Dr. James Murray (Mel Gibson), editor of the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, and its chief "volunteer," Dr. William Minor (Sean Penn), a criminally insane murderer. As the title suggests, the film deals with the mystery of mental illness and, in this case, how its delusions can mislead and torment those who suffer. Several scenes include violence (sometimes with guns), blood, and wounds that may make viewers a tad squeamish -- but none of it is gratuitous. The most disturbing instance -- the strong implication that a character has castrated himself -- is largely left to suggestion; other parts show someone being branded on the face as a punishment and someone being forced to throw up as medical treatment. Love grows between two characters, but it's quite vague, and there's no racy content at all. Nor is there any strong language or substance use. The story offers a real-life example of two people who looked deeper into a troubled soul and realized he still had something to contribute to the world. It has themes of teamwork, perseverance, and compassion. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Despite the fact that both the star/producer and the director have disavowed it, this isn't a bad film; it's beautifully shot and sensationally acted, and it tells a fascinating real-life story. It must be challenging to make something cerebral -- the quest to find and identify word origins -- into something exciting, so the initial focus of The Professor and the Madman is more on the enormity of the task. While teens have likely never thought about how the dictionary was created, most have faced moments of having to tackle an overwhelming assignment, and the film may set an example for them: Ask for help, divide it into smaller tasks, and conquer. It also may be useful to see that, while Murray's employers wanted him to take shortcuts so he'd move faster, he insisted on the work's integrity, thoroughness, and accuracy.
Perhaps that's where The Professor and the Madman went south: Director Farhad Sahinia (who removed his name from the credits) and star/producer Gibson weren't allowed to shoot additional scenes, and they insist that the movie is incomplete. We'll have to trust them on that, but what remains is solidly interesting. It's no easy feat to turn a mentally unstable man who shot and killed an innocent father of six into a sympathetic hero. Penn's vulnerable, enigmatic portrayal of Minor is focused in his vacant but pained eyes. Giving more depth to his humanity are the interactions with Murray and Natalie Dormer's Eliza Merrett. The story we're watching may be set in the past, but with mental illness on the rise (or at least increased diagnosis and awareness), the message that society shouldn't abandon or ridicule the afflicted couldn't be more timely.
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