"The Professor and the Madman" film version now available

Claude Bauer

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Jan 8, 2012
The 2019 film version of the best selling book, "The Professor and the Madman" is now available on cable starring Mel Gibson, Natalie Dormer, and Sean Penn as the insane Civil War surgeon:


If you can look past the film's troubled history and bad reviews, it tells the fascinating story of the development of the Oxford English Dictionary, which includes the true character of Dr. Minor, "a millionaire American civil war surgeon turned lunatic, imprisoned in Broadmoor Asylum for murder and yet who dedicated his entire cell-bound life to work on the English language." (See also the related book, "The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and Love of Words" (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0140271287/?tag=civilwartalkc-20).

I actually enjoyed the movie, although there were so many issues surrounding it's production that Mel Gibson apparently called it a "bitter disappointment" and along with the director refused to even participate in promoting the film. There was a limited theatrical release earlier this year, then straight to cable.

OK, it wasn't a stunning cinematic tour de force, but it wasn't all that bad. I found it watchable and engaging, with excellent performances by a talented cast. If you subscribe to a cable network that includes recently released films you can watch for free, it's definitely worth the price. The Civil War connection is interesting--although it's not clear in the movie what drove Dr. Minor insane, it's entirely possible that the horrors of Civil War battlefields and primitive medical care might have had something to do with it.

Period photo of Civil War surgeon Dr. William Chester Minor holding an early edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which only included the first part of the alphabet. He made thousands of contributions to the effort from his cell in an English insane asylum. The entire dictionary wasn't completed until 1928.
338px-Dr._William_Chester_Minor.jpg
 
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diane

Retired User
Joined
Jan 23, 2010
Location
State of Jefferson
Thanks for putting up the trailer! I had high hopes for this movie because the story behind it is really incredible. Both the professor and the madman had fascinating backgrounds. The cause of Dr Minor's mental health issues - which were major! - did indeed stem from the Civil War, the battle of the Wilderness specifically was the breaking point. It was one of the most staggeringly horrible battles in the war with wounded burning up in the fires started by artillery and a great many of those he treated were from the famed Irish Brigade. Apparently the last straw was when Dr. Minor had to brand a D on an Irish deserter's face - he'd already been dealing with burned people. Then began delusions that the Irish were out to get him! At least their leprechauns... Eventually his family sent him to London where he shot dead a vengeful leprechaun who was following him - it was just some poor guy headed home from work.
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
I'm finally reading this book. I needed some light reading. Yes, it's about a murdering lunatic, but the mainstream-friendly writing style is easier than some of the heavier ACW texts I had been reading.

Minor's madness is a curious subject that the book doesn't seem to try to really analyze. It is of course difficult to paychoanalyze the dead. Minor's issues were certainly beyond the capability of the psychology of the time to handle.

Given his apparent frequent enjoyment of dalliances I wonder if he might have had syphilis. It's what made Al Capone go crazy. I don't think there's any mention of that possibility in the book.

PTSD apparently does cause psychotic symptoms in about a third of cases so it's not impossible that is solely the cause of his paranoid schizophrenia. Still, as horrible as the Battle of the Wilderness was and the alledged experience of branding an Irish deserter's face I can't help but think there's other trauma Minor experienced that probably went untold because of the attitudes of the era.

It also occured to me reading the book that Minor could have suffered abuse while in the asylum. His delusions meant his pleas of real abuse vs imagined abuse would probably be indistinguishable.
 

RicM

Cadet
Joined
Apr 17, 2021
Thank you will definately check it out, never knew about this, no fan of Sean Penn, but the trailer caught my interest.
 

Booklady

Sergeant
Joined
Mar 19, 2017
Location
New England
The 2019 film version of the best selling book, "The Professor and the Madman" is now available on cable starring Mel Gibson, Natalie Dormer, and Sean Penn as the insane Civil War surgeon:


If you can look past the film's troubled history and bad reviews, it tells the fascinating story of the development of the Oxford English Dictionary, which includes the true character of Dr. Minor, "a millionaire American civil war surgeon turned lunatic, imprisoned in Broadmoor Asylum for murder and yet who dedicated his entire cell-bound life to work on the English language." (See also the related book, "The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and Love of Words" (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0140271287/?tag=civilwartalkc-20).

I actually enjoyed the movie, although there were so many issues surrounding it's production that Mel Gibson apparently called it a "bitter disappointment" and along with the director refused to even participate in promoting the film. There was a limited theatrical release earlier this year, then straight to cable.

OK, it wasn't a stunning cinematic tour de force, but it wasn't all that bad. I found it watchable and engaging, with excellent performances by a talented cast. If you subscribe to a cable network that includes recently released films you can watch for free, it's definitely worth the price. The Civil War connection is interesting--although it's not clear in the movie what drove Dr. Minor insane, it's entirely possible that the horrors of Civil War battlefields and primitive medical care might have had something to do with it.

Period photo of Civil War surgeon Dr. William Chester Minor holding an early edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which only included the first part of the alphabet. He made thousands of contributions to the effort from his cell in an English insane asylum. The entire dictionary wasn't completed until 1928.
View attachment 331394
Read the book a good 20 years or so ago and loved it. The "shades of meaning" of so many words, as the well as the history of our English words, is (are?) endlessly fascinating to learn about. While I would never be able to afford, let alone find room for, the entire OED, the book inspired me to buy a single-volume dictionary of etymology that I've used personally as well as in my classrooms. Kids, even 10-year-olds, love to think and learn about words.

When I saw the movie was running on Netflix earlier this year I tuned right in. I don't think I knew the film had troubles surrounding its making, but I enjoyed watching it.

I had forgotten all about Dr. Minor's connection to the Civil War. Thanks for the reminder.
 

RicM

Cadet
Joined
Apr 17, 2021
Watched on Net Flix tonight. Excellent movie! Like I said I dont like Sean Penn, but he is a great actor and did an excellent job in this movie as did Mel Gibson.
 
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