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"Sybil"
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Reviews & Ratings for
"Sybil" More at IMDbPro »

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72 out of 72 people found the following review useful:

Vivid, unsettling true story given enormous stature by Joanne Woodward and Emmy-winning Sally Field.

10/10
Author: gary brumburgh (gbrumburgh@aol.com)
18 April 2001

How does one survive, much less overcome, long-standing child abuse? Newscasts are littered with the more unusual, horrific stories - children imprisoned in closets or chained to beds with little more than food or water; tiny children dying in hot, sweltering autos or stuffed into car trunks while a parent works. In yesterday's paper alone, an archbishop of a progressive church was charged with the strangulation of a 15-year-old girl he sexually assaulted for years, while on the opposite page a woman and her boyfriend were charged with beating two of her children with a metal pipe, their battered bodies bearing the marks of years of abuse. How does a child get through this WHILE IT IS HAPPENING? Somehow, some way they MUST build up some sort of mental toughness or defense mechanism to combat the agony and fear - either by tuning out or systematically shutting down -- going into deep states of denial and emotional withdrawal. And then there is Sybil Dorsett...

Sally Field is unforgettable as the titular victim of incessant child abuse, a woman who dissolved into SIXTEEN separate and distinct personalities in order to cope with a mother who inflicted indescribable childhood tortures. She is nothing short of amazing, especially in her "dissociative" scenes as she morphs with lightning speed into one or more of her "inner family" -- a combative, self-assertive Peggy Lou, a mothering but suicidal Mary, a vivacious, ambitious Vicky, a frightened, thumb-sucking Sybil Ann, or even an athletically-inclined Mike. All of them personalities created and programmed unconsciously by Sybil to endure any situation she herself couldn't handle, and triggered by almost anything -- a hostile argument, piano music, certain colors, street sounds, even a word.

What is incredible about Field's performance as Sybil (not her real name) is the ability to tear down her own barriers to such an extent that she can revert into a flood of strange babblings or shockingly infantile behavior at the drop of a hat. It is such a compelling and all-consuming feat that these scenes come off almost improvisatory in style. One particular marvel of a scene has Sybil's psychologist discovering her patient, an artist by nature, lodged under a piano taken over by one of her more immature personalities, tormented by thunderous sounds of Dvorak and Beethoven, illustrating her torment on paper with brightly-colored crayons. It is to director Daniel Petrie's credit that he was able to create such a safe environment for Field to let herself go like this. With "Sybil," Field, who won an Emmy, forever dispelled any theories that she was a one-note actress trapped with a Gidget-like cuteness.

In an ironic bit of casting, Joanne Woodward essays the role of Sybil's psychologist, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, who finally pinpoints Sybil's mental disability and starts her on the long, arduous journey of putting the "selves" back together. Woodward won an Academy Award decades earlier as a similar victim of MPD (multiple personality disorder) in a curious but ultimately heavy-handed and very dated film "The Three Faces of Eve." Woodward is superb here as a professional clearly out of her element but determined to find a light at the end of the tunnel for this poor, unfortunate girl.

The late Brad Davis, as an unsuspecting acquaintance who wants to get to know Sybil better, adds a tender, sympathetic chapter to Sybil's turbulent life, while William Prince and Jane Hoffman are compelling as Sybil's bloodless father and stepmother who offer puzzling, ignorant explanations to Sybil's "problem." Charles Lane has a significant scene as Sybil's small-town doctor (as a child) who failed to report his examination findings, and little Natasha Ryan, in flashback sequences, must be commended for reenacting the more harrowing details of Sybil's childhood torment. Jessamine Milner as Sybil's grandmother has a few affecting moments as a doting grandma who offers Sybil brief moments of respite.

However, the most chilling portrait of evil you'll ever witness on TV goes hands down to stocky, harsh-looking Martine Bartlett as Sybil's monster of a mother. She lends horrifying believability to the fragmented, unbalanced woman who gets sadistic pleasure out of her routine torturous acts. Bartlett, a respected stage actress little seen on film, was known for another bizarre but fascinating screen role as a crazy, self-abusing mental patient in "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden." As Hattie Dorsett, she displays subtle, calculating menace, which makes her even more terrifying, as she devises a number of "games" to inflict on her only child. Some of these scenes are extremely repelling and graphic in nature, but it is all handled as responsibly as possible, considering the actual incidents DID occur.

Hopefully seeing this dark, disturbing, but ultimately important TV-movie will inspire you to read Flora Rheta Schreiber's best selling book, which details Sybil's childhood, blackout episodes (the real Sybil once woke up finding out she had missed the entire sixth grade(!), therapy sessions, the battle of alter-egos for control of Sybil, and the subsequent unifying process, through the professional vantage point of Dr. Wilbur and with more depth. Trust me, you won't be able to put it down and you'll never question the boundaries and/or consequences of child abuse again.

WARNING - Don't rent the confusing, chopped-up two-hour version, also available on tape. This was a two-part, over three-hour long drama when initially shown and THIS version is what rates a "10."

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42 out of 45 people found the following review useful:

More than 20 years later, I still remember this riveting and emotional movie.

10/10
Author: Gil-C from Toronto, Canada
9 November 1999

I was only 10 when I saw this on TV but still remember scenes vividly from it (I believe I watched it again since). Sally Field is awesome as she portrays a woman who was abused as a child by her mother and has developed multiple personalities as a result. It is fascinating and heart-breaking as the psychologist played by Joanne Woodward (also very good) uncovers all her personalities and reveals the suppressed memories which caused them. I can't recommend this movie enough. 10/10

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26 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

Shoe-hooks, white coats and the Big Chair...

8/10
Author: moonspinner55 from las vegas, nv
9 September 2001

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Extremely unsettling--but not unpleasant--true story of a substitute teacher in New York harboring 16 different personalities. I recently saw this again on video which was pared down from the original TV-length of 198 minutes (my copy was roughly 2 hours-12 minutes and omitted several strong scenes); for those who don't remember that original version, there's a strong, sensitive finale wherein all Sybil's personalities face her in the park. Sally Field is riveting in the lead and Joanne Woodward resilient, lovely and kind as her psychiatrist. Many moments resonate with tenderness, although I'm not sure Sybil's eventual exclamation of hatred in remembrance of her abusive mother is conducive to her forgiving the evil woman (the movie seems to treat them one and the same). The abuse sequences themselves are downright shocking, and Martine Bartlett (in the frightening role of Mama) is quite convincing, but perhaps a bit more about this character's background might have answered some of our own questions. Nevertheless, powerful and enlightening and terrifying--one of the best TV-movies to date.

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23 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

A fascinating movie detailing Behavior

Author: Rosemary (zelda1964) from Long Island, New York
6 April 2004

I saw this film a few times, and loved Sally Field's performance. Here we see a grown up who blocks out the memories of a harrowing child abuse. What we discover is that Sybil learns to protect the psychological "inner child" by developing personalities that are warm and comforting. The way she unlocks the real Sybil is by therapy with a Dr. Wilbur.This film does not portray childhood as rosey and bright;We see the poor child hung up by a rope as the mom administers an enima.We see the mother lock her in a dark box.From the film,We understand the "hands' of evil belonged to a person Sybil dearly loved and trusted. The way Dr. Wilbur helps Sybil is to unite the personalities together in one. We hear Sybil say "I love You" as she hugs herself;That expression of affection was what the poor child never heard growing up. What this film teaches us, is to believe in our own worth and gain strength in our abilities. I loved Joanne Wooodward, and her character helps Sybil find the perfect person she truly was.

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22 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

A Modern Masterpiece of movie making

Author: ForReal84 from PA
17 May 2003



Sybil, originally aired way before my time, but I got a chance to see it two years ago in my health class in school. Recently while channel surfing, I came across the movie again. I have always had an interest in Multiple personalities, or MPD. Having studied it in a Human Behavior class, I have become obsessed with learning more about it.

The movie Sybil is about the life and lives of at least 16 different people all sharing the body of one person. The movie deals with a hard subject and has some pretty disturbing scenes. One scene that is very unsettling happens towards the end of the movie where Sybil's crazy mom locks her in a trunk. The things that he r mother put her through are so horrible. It's a shame that this young woman's life was full of obstacles. Sally Field definitely deserved an Emmy for her compelling, complex performance as the title character. She goes from each personality flawlessly. She is a very talented actress, the performance only proves that she can play any part. Joanne Woodward, who in this film has switched roles from her Oscar winning performance in The Three Faces Of Eve, where she played a woman with MPD, does an equally outstanding job. Brad Davis turns in one of his best performances. The movie itself is one of the best made for television movies. It grabs you and holds you until it's chilling ending. Sybil is a movie surrounded hope, but covered in sadness. It is an excellent piece of movie making. I give it 4/4.

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32 out of 47 people found the following review useful:

Get this MOVIE on DVD, PLEASE!!!

10/10
Author: hamichael from Boston, Massachusetts
18 March 2002

We have waited long enough! After shelling out $100. for a VHS copy of this movie . . . I think there is a demand for this film. Especially the full version, on DVD! Now is the time! Especially with Sally Field having such popularity on E.R. and now with her own show! People WANT this film! Trust me!!! Please release it on DVD!!!

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16 out of 17 people found the following review useful:

Excellent Movie

10/10
Author: don2037 from United States
4 July 2005

This is one of the most impressive movies I've seen ever. Sally Field's acting was superb! I can see why she won an award for it. Ms. Field's portrayal of this poor girl's (Sybil) insight into her emotions and thoughts was breathtaking. Sally was perfect for the part. Joanne Woodward was also excellent in her role as the psychiatrist who supports Sybil thru her memory ordeal concerning her abhorrent upbringing. The movie gives, I think, a very thorough understanding of Dissociative Identity Disorder, also known as MPD.

This is a great movie for psychology students to watch, as well as, anyone who is interested in the psychology of the mind and how it deals with trauma for some individuals. Although I don't suffer from multiple personalities, I found that this movie helped to give me personal insight into my own issues dealing with my own abusive upbringing. This is a great film to watch whether it be for entertainment or for educational reasons.

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18 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

I can't emphasize how underrated this film is!

10/10
Author: Arctic_Wizard from Oxford, Oxfordshire, England.
1 July 2005

What a moving, outstandingly brilliant film starring Joanne Woodward, Brad Davies and Sally Field who won an Emmy for her unforgettably, rare and treasuring performance as the susceptible and disturbed Sybil!

Psychological drama, based on a true story; Sally Field stars as Sybil Dorset, a 20-something supply-teacher who suffered unspeakably horrifying treatment from her volatile mother (Martine Bartlett) and subsequently developed sixteen different personalities. With the help of her caring psychiatrist (Joanne Woodward), she slowly but surely learns how to identify herself.

Sally Field could have been the Meryl Streep-like actress of this generation. Before watching Sybil, I was unaware of her erratic next role and as such was intrigued upon discovering she played a woman with multiple personalities. Watching her portray each character thoroughly is overwhelming and cherished. It's a shame both she Sybil are so underrated and ignored.

Joanne Woodward is equally cherished in her role as the sympathetic and patient psychiatrist who nurses Sybil back to a normal woman. She too seems rather underrated as I'd never heard of her until I watched Sybil. I may need to consider delving into her CV for some good movies to get a hold on.

The only problem with the video I managed to snatch off eBay was that fact it was a pirate copy AND didn't even get to the end of the sodding film! Despite getting towards the end of the film is still sadly disrupted my enjoyment of Sybil and now I don't know how it ends. I've posted a message on the message board and hope to have an answer from someone soon. However, all of what I watched was incredibly excellent and as I said earlier - overwhelming.

My only question would be why the hell hasn't this been released on DVD? Or even screened on British TV?! I will not rest until amazon.com sees sense and releases the full four hour, uncut version. With a range of special features, including commentary from both Sally Field and Joanne Woodward, a documentary on Shirley Ardell Mason - the real Sybil who passed away back in 1998 and a selection of different languages - including Spanish and French - for non-English speaking viewers.

UPDATE: To my delight, I have recently realized that whoever they are have finally seen sense and agreed for a two disk, full, uncut version of the original Sybil - accompanied with several special features - is to be released on May 23rd 2006. To celebrate its 30th anniversary. I've already marked it in my calendar. Tick-tock ... tick-tock ... tick-tock ...

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15 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Endearing Sybil

8/10
Author: RaeganBeaumont_99 from United States
23 March 2006

I loved it for the time it was made it was made great, Sally Feild was touching, sweet, innocent and all around wonderful in it. She showed us emotion and fear. No wonder she is such a great actress. One of the first serious ones she did after Gidget & Flying Nun, she showed us just how great she could be. Its a long, heartbreaking story and i definitely recommend it to anyone who is serious about sitting down and watching it. I see there making another one, a new one. No one will ever be able to do it like Sally. I hope they don't ruin a great movie by adding things or embellishing way to much. It would ruin the story and depth of it all.

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19 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Sybil DVD was both informative and disappointing

10/10
Author: sybilsfriend from United States
2 September 2006

The 30th anniversary DVD edition of Sybil was released in July. As Shirley Mason's (aka Sybil)long time friend, I was included in the documentary about the making of the movie. The documentary is a fascinating recap of how the movie was cast and how it came to be. However, I was disappointed that Shirley Mason is not mentioned anywhere in the documentary, and her name is not even shown on her paintings in the gallery. Shirley was a person to me, not a fictional character. I was told that her name couldn't be mentioned because of contractual agreements with the author of the book. Shirley Mason WAS Sybil and her life as an artist in Kentucky should not be minimized. Since Sybil is a story of abuse, but also one of recovery, I feel my friend was denied the recognition she deserves as a survivor of abuse, as a wonderful artist, as a warm, kind lady who lived a quiet life of dignity in Lexington. If and when my book, Life After Sybil... From the Words of Shirley Mason, gets published, I intend to correct that omission. Regards, Sybil's Friend ... Nancy Preston

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