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Film / The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

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"The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world."

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a 1992 thriller film directed by Curtis Hanson and written by Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Jurassic World). It centers on a vengeful nanny who schemes to destroy a naïve woman and steal her family from her.

Claire Bartel (Annabella Sciorra) is pregnant with her second child. At a routine checkup, Claire is molested by her new obstetrician, Dr. Victor Mott (John de Lancie), and after Claire tells her husband Michael (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 to avoid being arrested.

Dr. Mott's pregnant widow (Rebecca De Mornay) ends up losing their child from the stress of her husband's suicide as well as the ensuing financial fallout. Blaming her for her woes, Mrs. Mott vows revenge against Claire. Six months later, she begins going by the alias "Peyton Flanders", with Claire and Michael hiring her to be their two children's nanny while unaware of her true identity. From that point on, Mrs. Mott covertly works to destroy the Bartel family.


This film contains examples of:

  • Artistic License – Law: Mrs. Mott learns of Claire's identity through a news report. It's not specifically shown that Claire had come forth publicly, and most jurisdictions have regulations against publicly identifying sexual assault victims. Oddly enough, this could have been avoided had the movie established that Mrs. Mott had only heard about Claire from her husband.
  • Asshole Victim: Besides Mrs. Mott, nobody is really going to miss Dr. Mott.
  • Babysitter from Hell: Mrs. Mott, a psycho nanny who is actually the widow of the disgraced obstetrician.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Mrs. Mott 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.
  • Advertisement:
  • Big Bad: Mrs. Mott poses as "Peyton Flanders" in order to exact revenge against Claire.
  • Contrast Montage: Mrs. Mott undergoing an emergency hysterectomy while watching her prematurely born baby die is intercut with scenes of a pregnant Claire and her family enjoying their day.
  • Convenient Miscarriage: Kicks off Mrs. Mott's sinister plot.
  • Creepy Physical: Dr. Mott molests Claire during a physical examination.
  • Crusading Widow: Mrs. Mott is grief-stricken over the deaths of her husband and their child, which drives her to seek revenge against Claire for the destruction of her life.
  • Death Glare:
  • Death of a Child: Mrs. Mott's premature baby is unable to survive. Subverted with Claire's baby Joey, whom Mrs. Mott nearly smothers before thinking better of it and instead deciding to take over Claire's life.
  • Destination Defenestration: How Mrs. Mott dies at the end.
  • Dirty Coward: Dr. Mott would rather take his own life than face the consequences of his actions, not even caring how such a drastic act might affect his pregnant wife.
  • 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!"
  • Driven to Suicide: Dr. Mott shoots himself after it is revealed he has been sexually abusing his female patients for years.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Mrs. Mott can't go through with her initial plan of murdering Joey.
  • Evil-Detecting Baby: Inverted. Joey wails when his own mother holds him, but quiets down in Mrs. Mott's arms. Then again, he was getting Mrs. Mott's breast milk.
  • Evil Gloating: Mrs. Mott gloats to Solomon after he accidentally witnesses her breastfeeding Joey and does it again to Claire when she seemingly has her at her mercy during an "asthma attack".
  • Faux Affably Evil: While acting as "Peyton Flanders", Mrs. Mott pretends to be a helpful, nice, and considerate woman who has a very understanding and gentle aura to her. In truth, she's sadistic, bitter, and spitefully angry.
  • Fiery Redhead: Marlene
  • First Girl Wins: Averted. During a chat with Mrs. Mott, Claire reveals that Marlene was Michael's First Love. Armed with this information and Claire's lingering insecurity about it, this becomes yet another thing Mrs. Mott uses to her advantage.
  • First Love: Marlene was Michael's first love.
  • Frame-Up: Knowing that he's on to her, Mrs. Mott 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 toolbox. With this "evidence" in place, she starts accusing him of pedophilia, and Claire eventually fires him.
  • Freudian Excuse: Mrs. Mott wants revenge against Claire because she holds her responsible for ruining her life by reporting her husband to the police, which led to his suicide, the death of their baby, and the loss of their home.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Mrs. Mott transforms from a wealthy obstetrician's wife into a homicidal schemer who calls herself "Peyton Flanders".
  • Gambit Roulette: Mrs. Mott's plot to ruin Claire's life essentially boils down to being this.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Inverted with Mrs. Mott, who is a dangerous and unhinged villainess hiding behind a veil of fake niceness.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Marlene holds it firmly in her hands when she reveals to Mrs. Mott that she knows who she is, prompting Mrs. Mott to lure her to her death. It's especially bad considering that she's been suspicious of "Peyton" from the moment they met.
    • Michael picks it up later on by going downstairs to check on the loud radio music coming from Mrs. Mott's room. Run like hell! He gets a concussion and both legs broken for his trouble.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged/Magical Negro: Solomon. Mentally handicapped, yet a skilled carpenter and suspicious of "Peyton" as well, and even after being fired (thanks to Mrs. Mott 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.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Marlene can be very abrasive and some what condescending, but she clearly cares about Michael and Claire. When she discovers that "Peyton" is actually Dr. Mott’s widow, she drives recklessly through traffic to warn Claire about her nanny's true colors. Sadly, Mrs. Mott tricks her into getting herself killed by using reverse psychology on her.
  • Kick the Dog: Mrs. Mott slaps Solomon and calls him "retard" even before she frames him for molesting Emma.
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: Justified with Solomon. He is clearly special needs, but he has his heart in the right place.
  • Lifetime Movie of the Week: Typical of the genre, with a weak and ineffectual heroine suffering from asthma fighting a stronger, prettier, and more cunning villainess who wants to destroy her family as revenge.
  • Mama Bear: Claire is this in full force once she discovers who "Peyton" really is. Strangely enough, Mrs. Mott shows signs of this when she attacks the kid who's been bullying Emma.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Mrs. Mott.
  • Misplaced Retribution: Instead of putting the blame on her deceased husband for ruining her life through his own despicable actions, Mrs. Mott goes after one of his victims who reported him to the police.
  • Missing Mom: Mrs. Mott reveals to Emma that she had to take care of herself for most of her life because her mother died when she was young.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Claire discovers Marlene's cigarette lighter in the pocket of Michael's pants, not knowing that Mrs. Mott has planted it there. Between this and the several nights that he has supposedly been working late, she wrongly concludes they've been having an affair and confronts him about it by screaming her head off at him. Claire doesn't know that an entire room full of party guests is there to celebrate her birthday—their sneaking around was to get inside the Bartel residence unnoticed.
  • Mistaken for Pedophile: Solomon falls victim to this thanks to Mrs. Mott's manipulation and planting of "evidence".
  • Ms. Fanservice:
    • Mrs. Mott in her see-through nightgown while getting ice at night and when she tries to seduce Michael into having sex with her while he's grieving for Marlene and worried about Claire. It's helped by the fact she’s portrayed by Rebecca De Mornay.
    • Marlene is also very dazzling. It helps that she's played by Julianne Moore.
  • Obliviously Evil: The attorney who calmly informs the heavily pregnant Mrs. Mott that the court is taking all of her remaining assets and she’s being kicked out of her own house in light of all the pending lawsuits from her late husband's victims has the audacity to politely offer to help her out of her chair.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Mrs. Mott not only lost her husband and her home, but miscarried her unborn baby - and thanks to the resulting hysterectomy, she can’t have another.
  • Police Are Useless: Despite telling the police that someone may have MURDERED their friend, stalked them, framed another friend, and used a breast pump to feed a kid who isn't hers (which would probably be some form of assault of a minor), the police label it "not an emergency situation" and take their sweet time heading over. It doesn't help that Claire and Michael deal with the situation on their own, kicking Mrs. Mott out when the cops definitely should have been escorting her.
  • The Other Rainforest: The film is set in Seattle.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Mrs. Mott calls Solomon a "retard".
  • Playing Possum: During the final confrontation in the film's climax, Claire fakes an asthma attack.
  • Second Love: Claire admits to Mrs. Mott that she is this to Michael, as Marlene was his First Love.
  • Shower of Angst: Claire takes one after her disturbing visit to Dr. Mott.
  • Surprise Party: Mrs. Mott planted the idea for throwing such a party in Michael's head, knowing it won't go well thanks to her own machinations.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else!: The good-looking Motts — he was a sexually abusive pervert using his position as an obstetrician to molest women, while she becomes a vengeful and scheming madwoman.
  • Took a Level in Badass: After seeing her mother being attacked, Emma outsmarts Mrs. Mott and locks her in the nursery, rescuing Joey at the same time. As an added bonus, you can practically feel the intensity with which she yells "YOU'RE NOT MY MOMMY!"
  • Tragic Villain: While Mrs. Mott is a vindictive and homicidal lunatic, one must not forget what turned her into such a monster in the first place.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Mrs. Mott gets this in spades. Within a very short timespan, her husband shoots himself, she is branded the wife of a serial molester (which she possibly only just found out), has all her assets frozen, gets kicked out of her own house, and suffers a late-term miscarriage that leads to an emergency hysterectomy. It's little wonder she becomes Ax-Crazy as soon as she recovers.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Michael advising Claire to go to the police after being molested by Dr. Mott (even though they had every right to do so) causes a chain of events that leads to Mrs. Mott infiltrating their home and wreaking havoc.