A haunting and thought provoking tale of a girl/woman growing up alone in the backwoods of North Carolina. Discovered after a store owner delivers groceries and finds the body of Nell's mother lying on the floor, she is suddenly thrust into a spotlight she neither wants nor understands.
The local doctor, Jerry Lovell, finds Nell hiding in the back room of the cabin and comes to the conclusion she is either retarded or a total enigma. Enlisting the help of fellow psychologist, Dr. Olsen, Lovell wants to observe her in her natural surroundings while Olsen wants to admit her to a hospital for study. Because of her inability to communicate with other humans, Nell often cannot express her wishes and desires. Receiving a temporary injunction, Lovell and Olsen move to the woods to observe Nell and make their decisions.
A bond forms between Lovell and Olsen both helps and hinders their investigation. Olsen, naturally envious of Nell's ability to live her life in total freedom, and Lovell admiring her ability to live alone without being lonely. Lovell spends many hours sitting in the cabin with Nell trying to communicate with her and eventually discovers the language she is speaking is indeed English, but of her own making. Perhaps this derives from her state of loneliness or the fact that her mother's own speech was hindered by a stroke.
Later in the movie they discover Nell was actually a twin and that to this day still interacts with her missing twin, who died after a fall in the woods. Often observed in a magical dance, they realize that in Nell's world she is still sharing her daily life with her missing sister. Eventually the three learn to communicate in an offhand way and a bond is formed between them.
Of course, word of the wild creature living in the woods gets out and people start sneaking up on her. In an attempt to protect Nell, they take her to the hospital after all. Threatened by all things unfamiliar to her, she becomes catatonic and listless. In court, as the government is now deciding whether or not this lady is competent to continue on her own, Nell gives a speech in Nellese that is translated by Lovell. Fortunately, she is returned to her world and the solitude she so desperately needs and wants. Years later we find a sort of family reunion - the Drs. Lovell and Olsen (now Lovell and Lovell) return to visit Nell with their daughter and all is right with the world.
Foster, always the master of her own world, gives a absolutely outstanding and heartbreaking performance. Beautiful as always, she is ethereal in this movie. Gentle innuendoes of sexual attraction but complete solidarity in this movie give it a timeless beauty. Foster is a powerful actress and this may well be one of her greatest roles.
Also starring Liam Neeson as Jerry Lovell and Natasha Richardson (Mrs. Liam Neeson in real life) as Paula Olsen.
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The backwoods of North Carolina is where Nell (Jodie Foster) lives, all alone. She has her own form of language and no idea of a world beyond her small plot of land. Then civilization enters her life in the form of two doctors (Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson), who discover the untamed wild child. Now that they have come to study her, Nell's life will never be the same again--but neither will theirs. Based on Mark Handley's play IDIOGLOSSIA, which means a language for one, NELL is an intriguing look at a person who has grown up without any contact with the modern world--like the famous wild boy of Aveyron portrayed in Fran?ois Truffaut's WILD CHILD. Foster is excellent in delivering Nell's unique language and body movements, while Neeson and Richardson are intense in their sparring over how Nell should be treated. For eclectic director Michael Apted, this film is just one of several (COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER and GORILLAS IN THE MIST) he has made about women who are not easily categorized. NELL is also th...