Film / The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
"The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world."

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a 1992 thriller written by Amanda Silver and directed by Curtis Hanson, about a vengeful nanny out to destroy a naïve woman and steal her family.

Claire Bartel (Annabella Sciorra) is pregnant with her second child. At a routine checkup, Claire is molested by an obstetrician, Dr. Victor Mott (John de Lancie), and when Claire tells her husband (Matt McCoy), the couple decide to report the incident to the authorities. Four more women come forward to corroborate the Bartels' story and Dr. Mott commits suicide.

Dr. Mott's widow (Rebecca De Mornay), after losing her child from the stress of her husband's suicide as well as the financial fallout, vows revenge on Claire's family, and sets herself up as a nanny that the family hires, not knowing her true identity. Now calling herself Peyton Flanders, Mrs. Mott begins working covertly to bring the family down.

Contains examples of:

  • Adult Fear: That your doctor, someone you are supposed to be able to have the utmost trust in, could use that trust to violate you when you're at your most vulnerable. It doesn't help knowing that this happens frequently in Real Life. Claire is just flat-out lucky that other women had the nerve to come forward once she did. In so many other instances they don't, whether out of the typical shame and fear experienced by assault victims or the confusion or uncertainty as to whether or not anything improper really happened.
    • Also, that the person you trust to take care of your child could be trying to undermine you and your marriage.
  • Artistic License: It's against the law to broadcast the name and picture of a sexual assault victim. Of course if that hadn't happened to Claire, we wouldn't have a movie.
  • Ax-Crazy: Peyton.
  • Babysitter from Hell: Peyton again.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Peyton, again. Despite being very attractive herself, Marlene appears to dislike and distrust her instantly for no other reason than how she looks—and she's not even dressed up at the time!
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Dr. Mott avoids being arrested for molestation by shooting himself.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Guess who?
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Peyton, Claire, and Marlene.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Several. The wind chimes at both houses. The blue turtles on the walls of both nurseries. The baby monitor, which saved the baby. Peyton had used it throughout the movie to eavesdrop on the Bartels. And Claire's asthma. After repeated attacks throughout the film, she fakes one in order to throw Peyton off guard.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Solomon
  • Convenient Miscarriage: Kicks off Peyton's plot.
  • Creepy Physical: Claire's doctor molests her during a physical examination, leading her to file charges and kicking off the events of the movie.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Marlene.
  • Death of a Child: Peyton's baby. Subverted with Claire's baby Joey, whom Peyton nearly smothers before thinking better of it and instead deciding to take over Claire's life.
  • Disney Villain Death: Literally, since this is in fact a Disney movie (via their Hollywood Pictures division). Downplayed overall since we do see where they land: a picket fence. Noted in MAD's satire "The Ham That Robs The Cradle":
    "Is this fence to keep people out... or keep people in?"
    "Neither! It's to impale people on, but you don't have to worry about that for at least three pages!"
  • Evil-Detecting Baby: Inverted. Baby Joe wails when his own mother holds him, but quiets down in Peyton's arms.
  • The Fake Cutie: Peyton Mott.
  • First Girl Wins: Averted. During a chat with Peyton, Claire reveals that Marlene was Michael's first love. Armed with this plus Claire's obvious lingering insecurity, this becomes yet another thing Peyton uses to her advantage.
  • Frameup: Knowing that he's on to her, Peyton considers it convenient to get rid of Solomon, so she steals the panties of her employer's five-year-old daughter and plants them in his room. With this "evidence" in place, she starts accusing him of pedophilia. At the end, he goes Papa Wolf to protect the baby when Peyton assaults Claire.
  • Gambit Roulette: Peyton's plot to ruin Claire's life.
  • Idiot Ball: Marlene holds it firmly in her hands when she reveals to Peyton that she knows who she is, prompting Peyton to lure her to her death. It's especially bad considering that she's been suspicious of Peyton from the moment they met.
    • Then Michael picks it up by going downstairs to check on the loud radio music coming from Peyton's room. Run like hell! He gets a concussion and both legs broken for his trouble.
  • Ill Girl: Claire suffers from severe asthma and has repeated attacks throughout the film. Leads to an inverted Chekhov's Skill when she fakes an attack in order to throw Peyton off guard.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged/Magical Negro: Solomon. Mentally handicapped, yet a skilled carpenter and suspicious of Peyton as well, and even after being fired (thanks to Peyton convincing Claire that he's molesting her daughter Emma), he continues to hang around the house, ultimately playing a key role in saving the family during the final confrontation.
  • Kick the Dog: Peyton slaps Solomon and calls him "retard", even before she frames him for molesting Emma.
  • Mama Bear: Claire is this in full force once she discovers what Peyton really is. Strangely enough, Peyton shows signs of this too, when she attacks the kid who's been bullying Emma.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Peyton.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Claire discovers Marlene's cigarette lighter in Michael's pants pocket, not knowing that Peyton has planted it there. Between this and the several nights that he has supposedly been working late, she deduces that they've been having an affair and confronts him about it by screaming her head off at him, not knowing that an entire room full of party guests is there to celebrate her birthday—their sneaking around was to plan the event.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: Solomon, thanks to Peyton's manipulation and outright planting of evidence.
  • Second Love: Claire admits to Peyton that she is this to Marlene regarding Michael.
  • Shower of Angst: Claire takes one after her disturbing visit to Dr. Mott
  • Surprise Party: Planned by Peyton, it's not surprising that it doesn't go well.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: The good-looking Motts—he's a sexually abusive pervert using his position as a physician to molest women, while she's a vengeful madwoman.
  • Took a Level in Badass: After seeing her mother being attacked, Emma outsmarts Peyton and locks her in the nursery, rescuing Joe at the same time. As an added bonus, you can practically feel the intensity with which she yells "YOU ARE NOT MY MOMMY!"
  • Unwitting Pawn: Claire.
  • Villain Protagonist: Peyton is arguably the focus of the film, despite being the villain.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Peyton. While there's no excuse for her actions, would she really have done all that had she not simultaneously lost her husband, unborn child, and presumably everything else?
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • In one scene Peyton is shown to be intending to smother baby Joe with a pillow. Subverted when she decides instead to breast-feed him.
    • She also scares the hell out of a bratty little boy who was bullying Emma.