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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 directed by Curtis Hanson and written by Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Jurassic World), 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 pregnant widow, Peyton (Rebecca De Mornay), ends up losing her child from the stress of her husband's suicide as well as the financial fallout. Blaming Claire's family for her woes, Peyton vows revenge on the Bartels, 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 – Law: Mrs. Mott learns 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, being his wife, Mrs. Mott had only heard about her through her husband directly.
  • Asshole Victim: Besides Peyton, nobody is really going to miss Dr. Mott.
  • Ax-Crazy: Peyton.
  • Babysitter from Hell: Peyton. This film is essentially Babysitter From Hell, the Movie.
  • 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!
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  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Dr. Mott avoids being arrested for molestation by shooting himself.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Peyton, naturally.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Peyton, Claire, and Marlene.
  • Broken Bird: Subverted. Peyton is seen heartbroken and devastated in the hospital after her emergency hysterectomy, but her grief quickly turns her into the Ax-Crazy Peyton.
  • 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. Mrs. Mott 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 Mrs. Mott off guard.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Solomon.
  • Contrast Montage: Peyton Mott undergoing an emergency hysterectomy while watching her prematurely born baby die is intercut with scenes of pregnant Claire and her family enjoying their day.
  • 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 Glare: Mrs. Mott gives one to the Attorney who politely tries to help her get out of her seat after virtually destroying her whole life moments before.
  • Death of a Child: Peyton's baby, born premature, and 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.
  • Dirty Coward: Dr. Mott would rather take his own life than face the consequences of his actions, not even caring what all of this might do to 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: Peyton can't go through with her initial plan of murdering Baby Joey.
  • Evil-Detecting Baby: Inverted. Baby Joey wails when his own mother holds him, but quiets down in Mrs. Mott's arms. Then again, it was Mrs. Mott's breast milk.
  • Evil Gloating: Peyton does to Solomon after he accidentally witnesses her breastfeeding Joey and to Claire when she has her at her mercy when she’s having an “asthma attack”.
  • The Fake Cutie: Peyton Mott/Flanders.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Peyton Flanders/Mrs. Mott pretends to be helpful, nice and considerate while also feigning a very understanding and gentle aura. In truth, she’s a sadistic, bitter and spitefully angry individual.
  • 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.
  • 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 room. With this "evidence" in place, she starts accusing him of pedophilia. At the end, he goes Papa Wolf to protect the baby when Mrs. Mott assaults Claire.
  • Freudian Excuse: Peyton wants revenge on Claire because she holds her responsible for ruining her life by reporting her husband to the police, which led to his suicide and subsequent loss of her baby and home.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Mrs. Mott transforms from a wealthy doctor’s trophy wife into the homicidal Peyton.
  • Gambit Roulette: Mrs. Mott's plot to ruin Claire's life.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Inverted with blonde "Peyton" who is a dangerous and unhinged crazy woman 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.
    • Then Michael picks it up 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.
  • Ill Girl: Claire suffers from severe asthma and has repeated attacks throughout the film.
  • 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 and when she discovers that Peyton is actually Dr. Mott’s widow, she drives recklessly through traffic to warn Claire about Peyton and who she really is. Sadly Peyton tricks her to her death in the greenhouse 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 who is clearly special needs but 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 take everything away from her.
  • Mama Bear: Claire is this in full force once she discovers what "Peyton" really is. Strangely enough, Mrs. Mott shows signs of this too, 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.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Claire discovers Marlene's cigarette lighter in Michael's pants pocket, not knowing that Mrs. Mott 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 Mrs. Mott's manipulation and outright planting of evidence.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Peyton in her see through nightgown while getting ice at night and when she tries to comfort/have sex with Michael when he’s grieving for Marlene and worried about Claire.
    • Its helped by the fact she’s played by Rebecca DeMornay.
    • Marlene is also very dazzling. It’s also helped too by the fact 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 husband’s victims has the audacity to politely offer to help her out of her chair.
  • Once Is Not Enough: Averted; when Claire kills Mrs. Mott at the end, she stays that way.
  • Police Are Useless: Despite calling the police that someone may have MURDERED their friend, in addition to stalking them, framing another friend, and using a breast pump to feed a kid that 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 are stupid enough to deal with the situation on their own and kick Peyton out, when the cops definitely should have been the ones escorting her.
  • The Other Rainforest: Takes place in Seattle.
  • Playing Possum: During the film's final confrontation, Claire fakes an asthma attack to throw Mrs. Mott off-guard.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Of the Misplaced Retribution kind.
  • Second Love: Claire admits to Mrs. Mott 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 Mrs. Mott, 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 Mrs. Mott 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'RE NOT MY MOMMY!"
  • Tragic Villain: Peyton is a vindictive homicidal lunatic, but one mustn't forget what turned her into such a monster.
  • 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 rapist (which she possibly only just found out), has all her assets frozen, gets kicked out of her own home, and suffers a late term miscarriage that leads to a full hysterectomy. It's little wonder she becomes Ax-Crazy as soon as she recovers.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Claire’s husband advising her to go to the police after being molested by Dr. Mott causes a disastrous fallout that results in Peyton infiltrating their home and wreaking havoc.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Claire.
  • Vengeful Widow: Mrs. Mott is grief stricken over the death of her husband and unborn child.
  • Villain Protagonist: Mrs. Mott is arguably the focus of the film, despite being the villain.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Mrs. Mott. 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 Mrs. Mott is shown to be intending to smother baby Joe with a pillow. Subverted when she decides instead to breast-feed him.
    • She also manhandles the hell out of a bratty little boy who was bullying Emma. To the sheer delight of the other kids on the playground.
  • You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With: Claire warns Michael point blank exactly just how dangerous Mrs. Mott is. And he finds out.


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