Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan



Idioglossia was a stage play, and is the name for an odd phenomenon that happens mainly between identical twins. They sometimes develop their own private language. These things can be amazingly complex. They have their own names for themselves and other people, and objects, too. It usually disappears around the age of puberty.

Jodie Foster is Nell, who has a unique form of this condition. She has been raised in the woods with no contact with other people by a mother who suffered a stroke when Nell was young. It badly distorted her speech, and so the only language the girl has ever heard is a strange, slurring, terribly distorted version of English. No one else can understand her. But Liam Neeson, an M.D., and Natasha Richardson, a research scientist specializing in autism, set out to understand her. This is very important, because if they can’t prove that Nell is mentally competent, she will be sent to an institution, where she will surely go mad. She is not technically a “wild child,” or feral child, like the largely legendary children raised by various animals. Her mind is not compromised. She is clearly human, though very much a child of nature, in the sense that she seems to experience things more deeply than most of us. The process of gradually understanding her language and eventually to be able to speak almost understandably is very moving to watch.

The film got mixed reviews. I’ll give it a good one. I enjoyed it. The thing that all critics (and myself) agreed on was Jodie Foster’s excellent performance. She was nominated for an Oscar, lost to Jessica Lange. It is sad to note that Neeson and Richardson had met only a few months before filming this, and were married and lived happily until she died in a freak skiing accident in 2009 at the age of only 46. What an awful loss, for him, and for all of us.