The Professor and the Madman Parent Guide
This is more than just a historical drama; it's a profound look at broken, vulnerable humanity.
Parent Movie Review
Professor James Murray (Mel Gibson) can’t be accused of taking the easy road. Indeed, the self-taught Scotsman has a lofty goal – creating the first comprehensive Oxford English Dictionary. Compiling definitions and usage histories for over 200,000 words is no small task, especially without computers. In 1879, Murray and his colleagues send out a call for help to the general public and are thrilled when thousands of cards come flooding in, including 10,000 entries from a particularly skilled contributor. But when they learn that their star lexicographer is a murderer locked up in the Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane, Murray is threatened with dismissal for tainting both the dictionary and the august university that is sponsoring it.
The Professor and the Madman explores an interesting slice of history but it’s more than just a look at how the world’s foremost English dictionary came into being. It’s an examination of languages and how they grow and evolve and what we learn when we parse the history of our own words. The film is also a study of friendship; of how unexpected affinities can bring the most unlikely people together in webs of respect, compassion, and loyalty. And, most of all, it’s a look at humanity at its most broken and vulnerable.
“Broken” is certainly a good descriptor for Murray’s star volunteer, Dr. William Minor (Sean Penn). A brilliant man whose sanity broke after serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, Minor suffered from delusions of persecution and murdered a man while hallucinating. Now locked up in Broadmoor, Minor researches words to keep his demons at bay. The filmmakers deserve credit for their portrayal of Minor: it’s nuanced and avoids stereotyping him either as a crazed killer or as a martyred victim of the legal establishment. Minor suffers from a serious mental illness and does violent and dangerous things but he also has a brilliant mind, valuable skills, a profound sense of guilt, and a strong desire to make amends in any way possible. With this character, the movie asks us to question our own beliefs about justice and mercy; about redemption and punishment; about looking for the good in unlikely souls.
Given Minor’s criminal acts and tendency towards self harm, the film does come with some violent content, including a man being shot to death in front of his own family. There are also scenes of a man being branded on the face and one of a man having an iron spike pierce his leg. Most disturbing of all is a scene where a man cuts off his own genitals – the activity occurs off screen but the aftermath is bloody and the whole episode is deeply disturbing. If you can control your gag reflex at that particular scene, you will find that the movie gives you plenty to think about. And whether you love or hate the film, you’ll never look at a dictionary the same way again.Directed by Farhad Safinia. Starring Mel Gibson, Sean Penn. Running time: 124 minutes. Theatrical release December 15, 2020. Updated February 26, 2021
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The Professor and the Madman
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Professor and the Madman rated Not Rated? The Professor and the Madman is rated Not Rated by the MPAA
Violence: There are some war scenes shown in flashback. A man’s face is branded with a hot iron. A man is shot in the neck in front of his children. An iron spike pierces a man’s leg and a bleeding wound is seen. A man slaps a woman. An insane man cuts off his own genitals – the actual act is not seen but there is lots of blood on his hands, crotch and floor. Prison guards stick their fingers down a man’s throat to force him to vomit. A girl slaps a man’s face.
Sexual Content: There are a couple of scenes of a man and woman kissing. A woman grabs a man’s crotch to persuade him to pay her for sexual favors: he rejects her.
Profanity: A couple of crude anatomical expressions are used as is a term of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Wine is shown at a dinner table.
Page last updated February 26, 2021
The Professor and the Madman Parents' Guide
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The film is based on a book by Simon Winchester, originally titled The Surgeon of Crowthorne:A Tale of Murder, Madness, and the Love of Words, but later retitled The Professor and the Madman.
The most recent home video release of The Professor and the Madman movie is May 10, 2019. Here are some details…
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