Research is at the very center of the movie, "Nell". Throughout the film, physician Jerry Lovell and researcher Paula Olson strive to understand the movie's namesake character, Nell - a seemingly feral woman. Initially, the motives of Lovell and Olson vary greatly. Lovell, for instance, seems to be interested in finding out whether Nell is capable of living on her own and caring for herself; he is concerned about Nell's present and future well being. He is of the impression that she is indeed capable based on his observations of Nell chopping wood and displaying independent behaviors. He almost immediately seems intent on protecting her way of life. Lovell seems to be motivated to protect Nell due in part to the letter left behind by Nell's mother, and possibly due to the need to make up for his failed marriage, although not much is mentioned about this. In additional, Lovell is a medical doctor, not a researcher. He views his patients as people, not subjects, as is evidenced by his house visit to an elderly man whom he suggests stay at home with his family rather than going to a hospital to die. He does not see Nell as someone who is sick and needs to be treated; rather she is a woman who has had a different upbringing who should be left to make her own choices in life.
Olson, on the other hand, is interested more in Nell's past. Was she abused? What was her childhood like? Olson seems to dismiss the idea that Nell could have a future in the woods, deciding that the best course of action is to bring Nell in for research and testing. As a researcher and academic, this was likely the obvious and only answer for her. Unlike Lovell, Olson seems to view Nell from a more scientific rather than personal perspective. Nell is a subject with a unique background, not an equal who may have her own ideas and opinions. Later in the movie, Olson discusses her parent's failed marriage and her own struggles to connect with others. Perhaps her childhood experiences with family dysfunction are what lead Olson to eventually connect with Nell as a person rather than a subject.
Throughout the movie, Lovell is referred to as Nell's guardian angel. For Nell, Lovell truly is a guardian angel - he is her protector. Time and time again, Lovell fights to protect Nell's lifestyle and dignity rather than trying to change her life to fit his own motives. With that said, he does make obvious efforts to improve her life, for example, in his attempt to show her it is safe to go outside during the day. This lesson serves to improve Nell's life while respecting her overall way of life. There is not a time when Lovell does not have Nell's best interests in mind. This relationship between researcher and subject should be kept in mind when conducting research, specifically in terms of education. Educators should always be looking out for the best interests of their subject (students) and serve to be their advocates. Just as Lovell fought for what he believed was right for Nell, educators need to fight for what they believe to be right for their students. While on a smaller scale, educators are conducting research all the time - they are attempting to problem solve and understand their students. They need to keep the needs of the student at heart rather than their own motives.
Edith, your explanation of the background and motivations of Dr. Lovell is very thorough and clear. The specific examples of Dr. Lovell’s observations (chopping wood, showing independent behaviors) helped illustrate your points very nicely. I like the way you describe Olson’s approach as “scientific rather than personal perspective” because as you mention, they do eventually connect, but it took time to move from research to personal. Great connection to the lesson of educators looking out for students’ best interests, because at times that is a thin line. And great point about educators constantly (and/or continually?) conducting research. That is often more innate, but a crucial part of bettering the learning environment people often do not understand.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, teacher, instructional designer, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!