50 years later, Sybil’s sixteen personalities still move viewers


(Promotional material from NBC)

Sybil (Sally Field), a complex woman staring into the abyss of her mind, with one of her alter personalities at her side, Sybil (1976).

The 1976 film Sybil’s depiction of the deep psychological scars of child abuse continues to capture viewers in 2022, an era where mental disorders are much more normalized.

In mid-1970s New York City, psychiatrist Dr. Cornelia Wilbur (Joanne Woodward) meets mentally unstable schoolteacher Sybil (Sally Field), soon discovering that she is not only speaking to Sybil, but 15 children living in Sybil’s brain who alter control of Sybil’s body. Dr. Wilbur eventually diagnoses this condition as dissociative identity disorder (DID)  and leads the alternate personalities to help Sybil face the atrocities her mother inflicted during her childhood. 

Sybil’s torturous tale of maternal trauma will never grow old. While the film is lengthy,  Field’s phenomenal acting and the harrowing storyline make up for it. The film succeeds in portraying empathy towards mental illness and creates a deeply thoughtful narrative that raises awareness without mocking; groundbreaking for the time due to the more severe stigma behind therapy in the 70s. Whether you want to gain insight into DID or crave immersion into 70s culture, Sybil remains riveting in all departments.