Stonehearst Asylum

Distributed By: Millennium Films

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                Ever since I listened to the Stonehearst Asylum Soundtrack and researched the film, I knew I had to see this movie.  So, having nowhere to go and nothing to do one afternoon, I finally decided to check it out.

                Based on The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, Stonehearst Asylum takes place in 1899 England.  It is here that we meet Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), a doctor who has come from Oxford Medical School to Stonehearst Asylum, hoping for an internship in his chosen field of psychiatric medicine.  Though it appears that no one knew Dr. Newgate was coming, the Superintendent of Stonehearst Asylum has decided that Newgate may be a welcome addition at the hospital.  Especially when Edward reveals that he wanted to come to this asylum because he had heard of the innovative ways in which psychiatric patients were treated there.

                So, Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley) takes Dr. Newgate under his wing, showing him around the facilities and impressing Newgate with his interesting style of treatment.  A man who believes he is a horse is allowed to continue to do so.  Depressed individuals are given new purpose in life by working jobs.  Homosexuals are allowed to express themselves fully.  One beaming example of success is Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a woman who suffers from hysterics brought on by the touch of a man.  Her days of convulsive and sometimes violent behavior are gone thanks to music.

                Dr. Edward Newgate is immediately struck by the grace and beauty of Eliza Graves, much to the surprise and eventual chagrin of Dr. Lamb.  For not all is as it seems at Stonehurst Asylum and Eliza Graves is eager to warn Dr. Newgate of the danger he has placed himself in.  Heedless of the danger, Newgate eventually discovers the secret of the place – the inmates are running the asylum

                But now that he knows the truth, how is Newgate to proceed.  Should he leave and attempt to get help, or stay and try to “treat” his benefactor, showing him the error of his ways?  Or perhaps his ways are not erroneous.  Perhaps Dr. Lamb holds the secret to psychiatric success.

                One of the things I loved about this film is that you can never really tell who the bad guy is.  Sure, there are some characters that you get bad vibes from right away, but even when you know that Dr. Lamb is actually supposed to be a patient, you find that some of his methods are quite well-meaning.  Especially when you compare his methods to those of the original superintendent's (Michael Caine) less humane methods of finding what the patient fears most and using that fear to systematically break the patient down and rebuild them in society's preferred standard.  Watching the original superintendent in action, you realize that Dr. Lamb's ideas of allowing the patients freedom to express themselves, giving them important jobs and tasks to perform, feeding into their delusions, listening to music, etc. may not be so bad.

                Stonehearst Asylum is extremely educating to the everyday viewer who may not have known how psychiatric hospitals worked in the late 1800s/early 1900s.  Especially the methods used by doctors to "cure" the patient and the variety of reasons that patients could find themselves committed for.  It may seem shocking to some that one of the asylum's patients was committed because he was a homosexual and another simply because they were an embarrassment to their family.  Research proves that this is not as far fetched as it sounds and that, as Dr. Lamb explains, people were often committed because they didn't fit in with societal norms and were therefore outcasts to be "gotten rid of."

                The acting in Stonehearst Asylum is superb.  The viewer is so drawn in by the story and the acting that they can actually believe Edward is a green doctor hoping to get a better education in the field of psychiatric medicine only to discover that nothing is as it seems at this asylum.  We actually believe that Ben Kingsley is a doctor who, for all his intelligence and grand ideas, has actually lost touch with reality due to a traumatic experience.  I found myself rooting for him, despite the fact that I knew he wasn't really Stonehearst Asylum's true superintendent. 

                I enjoyed the lack of lighting and the dark and foreboding nature of the asylum both as seen in the distance and up close.  The darkness we see throughout most of the film is in stark contrast with that of the bright and colorful lighting in the end, as if the dark state of mind that the patients have so long been tethered to has finally been released, allowing them a brighter state of existence.

                And that ending!  I was wholly unprepared and quite shocked at the revelations supplied in the ending of Stonehearst Asylum.  I just never expected it!

                Stonehearst Asylum is definitely a must see film for fans of thriller dramas.  The storyline is interesting, the acting awesome and the ending will leave you completely shocked, but utterly fulfilled. 


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