‘The Professor and the Madman’ Review- An Imperfect, But Misunderstood Film

The Professor and the Madman‘ is a 2019 biopic directed by Farhad Safinia (under the pseudonym P. B. Shemran). It was produced by Mel Gibson, though he and Safinia would renounce the film after a legal dispute with Voltage Pictures.

Retired US Army Surgeon Dr. William Chester Minor (Sean Penn) is arrested in England in 1872 after murdering the husband of Eliza Merrett (Natalie Dormer) in a psychotic episode. He is imprisoned at Broadmoor Asylum where he is treated by Dr. Bayne (Stephen Dillane).

Meanwhile, language enthusiast James Murray (Mel Gibson) is hired by Oxford to complete their English dictionary. Despite protests from some of the elites in the group, his friend Prof. Furnivall (Steve Coogan) supports him. Murray and his wife Ada (Jennifer Ehle) move to the school with their children where he puts out a call for “volunteers” to help with entries to the dictionary. As Dr. Minor recovers, he makes overtures to Eliza, who at first rejects him, but comes to see his suffering. Minor then hears of Murray’s call and immediately begins sending in entries, culminating in a friendship between Minor and Murray.

Apparently, Luc Besson was planning on directing the film, but passed it onto Mel Gibson, who opted to star in it, but had collaborator Farhad Safinia direct it in 2016, though the subsequent lawsuit would delay its release for three years.

Many of the mainstream critics, as usual, raced to write negative reviews of this film before it could even get into cinemas. Now, the movie is imperfect. It has some editing snafus such as relying on Dutch angles and blurred backgrounds that were a bit distracting.

That being said, the performances were top-notch. Gibson, Penn, and Dormer all deliver in their roles. I was also impressed with Coogan, who is mainly known for his comedic roles, but played a decent serious character.

The story is tragic but also had some tender moments. I did find several moments of the sheer brutality of Dr. Miner’s “mental health” treatments to be disturbing. They were torturous and it is shocking any mental health professional thought they were ethical. This film does a good job of highlighting this and showing it, but also how a little bit of kindness can help someone in distress.

I was also impressed with how it wove in Christian themes of charity, forgiveness, hope, and love. It was worked into the story of Dr. Miner quite well. I was impressed by this, especially from an industry that likes to ridicule the Christian faith. This movie celebrated it without falling corniness. I found that refreshing.

Bottom line, The Professor and the Madman is an imperfect film with some distressing scenes and troubled history. That being said, it has solid performances and a plot that keeps you intrigued.

PARENTAL CONCERNS: Some language, Disturbing images of torture, Violence, Frightening themes

FAVORITE QUOTE: I can fly out of this place on the backs of books. I’ve gone to the end of the world on the wings of words…. When I read, no one is after me. When I read, I am the one who is chasing–chasing after God.

Check out the trailer below:

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below. Tell me if there is a comic book, movie, or novel you would like me to review. While you are at it, check out my reviews of I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer and Experimenter. Don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe for more posts like this one.

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