The Professor and the Madman Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Pros: Mel Gibson and Sean Penn; two stories that come together into one Cons: in some places the film is embellished with artistic platitudes “The Professor and the Madman”

Drama genre
Directed by PB Shemran
Cast: Mel Gibson (James Murray), Sean Penn (William Chester Minor), Natalie Dormer (Eliza Merrett), Ioan Gruffudd (Henry Bradley), Jeremy Irvine (Charles Hall), Steve Coogan (Frederick James Furnivall), Laurence Fox (Philip Lyttelton Gell), Jennifer Ehle (Ada Murray), Brendan Patricks (Winston Churchill), etc.
Компании Fastnet Films, Icon Entertainment International, Voltage Pictures
Year of release 2019
IMBD site

The film shows the stories of two completely different men who were united by working on one large-scale undertaking. James Murray (Mel Gibson) is a self-taught genius who knows dozens of foreign languages. He is trusted to compile and edit the Oxford Dictionary. Murray has unusual ways of working. He believes that none of the academics will be able to cope with the task without the help of people throughout England. So he’s looking for volunteers to help him find quotes that illustrate the use of certain words.

In parallel with Murray’s workday, the film shows the tragic turn in the life of American surgeon William Chester Minor (Sean Penn). Suffering from paranoia, Minor mistakenly kills a man. During his trial, he is found not guilty by reason of insanity and is sent to a mental hospital. There he is haunted by visions from the past until Minor learns about the search for volunteers. Suddenly he finds meaning in the analysis of words, and a visitor begins to come to him, who for a long time refused to see him.


The film “The Genius and the Madman” could have appeared 20 years ago, but something was never planned. In 1998, the book The Surgeon of Crowthorne was published, telling the true story of the collaboration between Murray and Minor. The rights to it were immediately bought by Mel Gibson, who, it is worth noting, was not yet associated with scandals at that time. The film adaptation under his leadership promised to be very promising; Dustin Hoffman and Luc Besson could take part in the filming. But both at some point abandoned the project, which stood in one place. Then there were years when Mel Gibson focused on other films and personal problems. So “The Genius and the Madman” turned from a promising film that could compete for world film awards into a suspended backup option.


In 2016, Gibson revived the project again, found actors (in addition to himself) and hired Farhad Safinia as writer-director. Gibson had previously worked with Farhad on Apocalypto, so there were no problems on the horizon. But they appeared, however, not from the director, but from the film company Voltage Pictures, which was outraged by the behavior of the creative team in the person of Gibson and Safinia.


Representatives of Voltage Pictures did not agree with their demands to complete some scenes in Oxford (it was replaced in the film by Trinity College in Dublin). The film’s budget was already beyond the agreed upon limits, so it was decided to leave everything as is. This, as well as other decisions by the film company, angered Mel Gibson so much that he sued Voltage Pictures. Gibson wanted to prevent the tape from being released, but failed. The film was edited and released without his recommendations. The name of another protester, Farhad Safinia, was replaced in the shooting gallery with PB Shemran (in fact, Voltage Pictures gave him a pseudonym, indicating that Safinia did not own the copyright to the film).


Who would have thought that the Oxford English Dictionary would become the cause of quarrels and lawsuits in the film industry. The least heard in this story was the work of Sean Penn, although it was he who played the role assigned to him best of all. Penn combines intelligence, madness and redemption in his character. He delivers a performance that is sometimes so lacking in modern films. The same can be said about Gibson, whose hero is not so expressive, but no less interesting. The film is definitely worth watching for the acting duo of these actors.


It’s a pity that “The Genius and the Madman” did not receive decent publicity. Thanks to the description, it will attract mainly philologists to the cinemas, but in fact the film can also touch those who have never worked with words. This is a worthy adaptation, embellished in places with artistic platitudes that do not spoil it.


Films like “The Genius and the Madman” are sometimes sorely missed. This is a heartfelt drama with good acting.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top