Cover Graphic from The Hand That Rocks The Cradle
Prayer Focus
Movie Review

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

Reviewed by: Brett Willis

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
1 hr. 50 min.

Starring: Annabella Sciorra, Rebecca De Mornay, Matt McCoy, Ernie Hudson, Julianne Moore, Madeline Zima | Director: Curtis Hanson | Writer: Amanda Silver

This film, in the tradition of “Fatal Attraction,” features an unbalanced woman who tries to steal someone else’s family. I’m combining the plot overview with the content warnings.

Claire and Michael Bartel (Annabella Sciorra, Matt McCoy) have a little girl and another child on the way. Since her obstetrician isn’t available, Claire is referred to Dr. Mott (John deLancie). This is the first of two settings of female partial nudity; both involve situations where nudity is appropriate (although it didn’t need to be shown on-screen), yet both are off-color. During the upper body exam, Dr. Mott is unprofessional, even vaguely suggestive. Then he secretly removes his gloves as he prepares to do the pelvic exam. Claire, sensing that she’s been violated, files a lawsuit and is joined by several co-plaintiffs. Dr. Mott commits suicide; Mrs. Mott (Rebecca De Mornay), who is also pregnant, gets word of her husband’s death while in a business meeting and miscarries from the shock. These are just the opening scenes.

Months later, the Bartels now have an infant son and hire Peyton Flanders as a nanny for him and his sister. Problem is, Peyton is really Mrs. Mott. Most of the rest of the film consists of Peyton turning everyone in the family against each other as well as against their employees and their friends. By a fantastic combination of ruthlessness and “good fortune,” she does this without anyone realizing that she’s the cause of the trouble. She even commits murder and disguises it as an accident. Apparently she’s planned her revenge from the beginning; she used a pump to keep her milk up since the miscarriage, so she could secretly nurse the Bartels’ baby (the other partial nudity setting). Sooner or later, she plans to finish off Claire and to steal her children and perhaps her husband. She won’t succeed, but she’ll wreak havoc with several people’s lives in the attempt.

The film contains abundant profanity, several scenes of violence, and several instances of treachery. The only “moral” content is in the formula ending, where the good folks eventually win.

One probable reason for this film’s high box office is the ambivalence and guilt that people feel in leaving their children with nannies, sitters or daycare providers. Although middle-class America has accepted the two-income system, and the government now pushes welfare moms to work outside the home, we’re not quite comfortable with the new system. Nor should we be, because it’s unscriptural. This film’s outrageous plot, and the near-zero chances of hiring someone as bad as Peyton, may give a false sense of security. Actually, the greatest danger to children left with outside care providers has nothing to do with whether the providers are good or bad. Every child has a basic need to bond with and rely on one person during the first two years after birth. Failing to meet that need puts the child at risk of developing some degree of Antisocial Personality Disorder (the inability to give or receive love). In other words: our concern should not be about the possibility of hiring a Peyton, but of creating one.

Year of Release—1992

Viewer Comments
Another in the “woman as crazed villian” genre (with a nasty undertone about single women vs. the family, similar to “Fatal Attraction”). Not very gruesome, but plot developments are definitely twisted. You have to be in a certain mood for this one, and check your mind at the door. My Ratings: [2/2]
—Hillari Hunter, age 37