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An abused battered wife has had enough of husband beating up on her. Everywhere she turns for help, there's not much anyone will do. After he rapes her one night, she sets the bed on fire with him in it asleep.
The story tells of a young woman admitting to having blackouts, fearing they are getting worse. She is diagnosed as suffering from multiple personalities, as a result of severe abuse at the hands of her mother, whom her psychiatrist, Cornelia Wilbur, believes was schizophrenic. The movie Sibyl is based upon author Flora Rheta Schreiber's biography of Shirley Ardell Mason, an American psychiatric patient, suffering from multiple personality disorder. The book, also called Sibyl, was in its turn based largely on the actual accounts of psychiatric treatment that Shirley Ardell Mason underwent, documented by American psychiatrist Cornelia WilburWritten by
The screenwriter thought the role of Sibyl would best be played by an actress who wasn't extremely well known to the public, so they wouldn't bring along previous associations as to her personality. With that in mind, he believed an "interesting" choice would be Lily Tomlin, as she could also obviously create distinct characters for all the separate personalities. He did become completely supportive of the idea of Sally Field playing the role after he witnessed Field's audition, however. See more »
When Dr. Wilbur confronts Sybil's father with Sybil's childhood injuries she holds Sybil's medical records in her hand. When the camera cuts to a different angle they are now on the table. See more »
[after hearing a loud thud]
Hattie, is Sybil alright?
Just one of her falls, Grandma!
[quietly to herself]
Oh, Grandma... what big ears you have.
[looking at Sybil's drawing]
Well whoever heard of a purple chicken with green feet? Can you imagine what kind of eggs that might lay? Imagine setting a plate of those in front of your grandfather some fine Sabbath morning! ARMAGEDDON!
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The original TV-version ran two nights for a total of four hours (198 minutes minus the commercials). Most video copies are pared down in length, one running 122 minutes and another "expanded" to 132 minutes. Both these versions are missing key scenes such as:
The introduction of of the alternate personality "Vanessa"
Sybil's first date with Richard
Her recollection of her childhood sweetheart.
Sybil dissociating into the personality of an infant, leading to Dr. Wilbur's memorable statements "My god Sybil, what did that monster do to you? What happened in the green kitchen?"
Dr. Wilbur confronting Willard Dorsett over him having left his daughter in the care of such an obvious and dangerously disturbed woman as Hattie
Sybil's two male personalities arguing with Dr. Wilbur about them being able to father children
Sybil finally confronting and learning to accept all of her personalities while under hypnosis
This was a deeply harrowing movie to watch, and unbelievably so when it came out in 1976. A small child in the grip of her homicidally insane mother, who inflicted sadistic torture on her, while her ineffective husband looked the other way when the signs of abuse were obvious.
There's a small performance in this movie that haunted me more than almost anything else in the film; the part of the grandmother, played by Jessamine Milner, who was as much a victim and prisoner in the home of her psychotic daughter as Sybil was. The difference was she was aware of the extent of her daughter's insanity.
What must it be like to be a prisoner in your own adult child's home, knowing she is inflicting abuse on your grandchild and will do the same to you if you speak? That kind of helplessness must be sheer hell to live with. She could have told her son-in-law or the police at any time (if she was able to get out of the house), but would they have done anything? Or turned a blind eye, considering the time?
Jessamine Milner's performance was so honest and affecting, it stands out as one of the most painful parts of the film, and she is in only two minutes of it! She was born in 1894, and was almost 80 when she made the film. She apparently was in her mid-seventies when she went into film! She's a mystery, and other than her few TV appearances in the late 70s, nothing apparently is known about her. However, she deserves a mention somewhere because of her performance in this difficult to watch film.
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