Top 5... - June 22, 2015

Stonehearst Asylum (and five of the best films set in psychiatric hospitals)
by James
James
by James hmv London, Bio "Like the legend of the Phoenix, I've just eaten a whole packet of chocolate HobNobs..." Editor, hmv.com

Stonehearst Asylum (and five of the best films set in psychiatric hospitals)

Loosely based on a short story by the famous American poet Edgar Allan Poe, Stonehearst Asylum is the latest film from director Paul Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian), due to arrive in stores next week (June 22nd). Set at the turn of the 20th century, Anderson's film stars Jim Sturgess as Edward Newgate, a recently qualified doctor who becomes fascinated by the field of mental health after witnessing a lecture at Oxford University in which a young, well-educated girl from a wealthy family named Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale) forms part of a live demonstration on the effects of madness.

Curious about how a young woman from such a privileged background could have fallen prey to such a condition, in which any form of physical contact triggers violent fits, the young doctor travels from Oxford to the remote Stonehearst Asylum, where Eliza is detained, in the hope of studying under its superintendent, the surly but highly intelligent Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley).

Newgate is surprised to learn that the asylum's treatment of its patients eschews the usual methods for treating mental health – which, at the turn of the century, included treatments like electro shock therapy and lobotomisation – in favour of indulging the patients' fantasies. In Eliza's case, this includes indulging her passion for music and encouraging her considerable skills as a pianist.

Newgate finds that Eliza is more sane than most of the facility's inhabitants and even though she remains guarded he soon finds herself falling in love with her. However, not all is as it seems at Stonehearst and Newgate soon becomes suspicious of Dr. Lamb and his operation. When he chances upon a discovery in the basement of the large country estate where the asylum is housed, he realises that he is in a huge amount of danger.

The cast for Anderson's psychological thriller also includes Michael Caine, David Thewlis and Jason Flemyng, as well as a fleeting appearance from Brendan Gleeson and another promising performance from young actress Sophie Kennedy-Clarke. Though Stonehearst Asylum doesn't really make any serious attempt to examine the tricky subject of mental health in any detail – this isn't that kind of film – it does address some of the barbaric treatment metered out to patients in such facilities at a time when the study of mental health was still in its infancy, and there are enough clever twists and turns in the plot to make Stonehearst Asylum an absorbing story, as well as including a typically brilliant performance from Ben Kingsley.

You'll be able to pick up the new film on DVD & Blu-Ray from next week (both are available for pre-order on the right hand side of this page) and you can watch the trailer below. In the meantime though we've picked five of the best films set in mental health facilities that are well worth a look...


One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Milos Forman's classic 1975 film earned Jack Nicholson his first Oscar for his outstanding performance as R.P McMurphy, a career criminal who successfully pleads insanity at his latest criminal trial to avoid prison and winds up instead at a psychiatric hospital, run by the terrifying Nurse Ratched. Witnessing the abuse and oppression visited on the facility's patients, McMurphy rallies his fellow inmates to rebel against the staff and take back their dignity. A brilliant and often moving depiction of life inside a psychiatric ward, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's nest is rightly considered an all-time classic.

 

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese's 2010 thriller, based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name, is one of many of the Italian-American director's films to star Leonardo Di Caprio, this time as federal marshall Teddy Daniels, who is called in to investigate Ashecliffe Hospital - a facility housing the criminally insane on an island in Boston harbour - when one of its patients disappears.

The patient in question, Rachel Solando, goes missing and leaves the only clue in the form of a cryptic note, but when Daniels asks to see her doctor's files and is refused access, he begins to suspect a conspiracy among the hospital's staff involving some highly unethical treatment methods. Before long he begins to mistrust everyone and everything, including his new partner, his memory and even his own sanity. Full of twists and turns, Shutter Island will keep you guessing until the very last scene.

 

Girl, Interrupted

The film that won Angelina Jolie her first and only acting Oscar for her supporting role as Lisa, Girl, Interrupted stars Winona Ryder as Susanna, a young woman who is wrongly committed to Claymore Hospital following what her doctor sees as a failed suicide attempt, although Susanna denies this. She befriends Lisa, a trouble-making inmate with a history escapes who the staff see as a bad influence on the other girls housed at the facility. Together the girls hatch a plan to steal their confidential medical records and escape from Claymore for good. With a cast that also includes Vanessa Redgrave, Whoopi Goldberg and Jared Leto, James Mangold's film is packed with great performances and it remains one of the most down-to-earth accounts of life inside a psychiatric hospital.

 

Awakenings

Starring Robert De Niro and the late Robin Williams, Penny Marshall's film is based on the memoirs of real life physician Oliver Sacks, whose experiments at the end of the 1960s with the drug L-Dopa lead to a breakthrough in the treatment of long-term catatonic patients. His test subject, Leonard Lowe (De Niro), finds himself fully awakened from his catatonic state for the first time in almost 30 years. However, they soon discover that the drugs effects are only temporary, no matter how much the dosage is increased. Awakenings is a genuinely heartbreaking film with some excellent performances from Williams and De Niro, and while we can't recommend this film highly enough, you'll want to have a box of tissues at the ready for this one.

 

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK

From the same director that brought us Ong Bak comes this odd but charming tale of a young girl committed to a mental health facility in South Korea after suffering from persistent delusions that she is not human. Instead Cha Young-goon, played by Su-jeong Lim, is convinced that she is a cyborg and, since cyborg's don't need food, she refuses to eat and is slowly starving herself to death. However, salvation is at hand in the form of Il-soon, a fellow inmate who believes that he can steal people's souls. He decides to make it his mission to get her to eat and the pair soon begin falling in love.

Chan-wook Park's film isn't your average love story, that's for sure, but it's a tender and heartfelt story that puts a completely different slant on the patient's point of view. If you didn't enjoy Ong Bak, don't worry – this film is a very different beast.

Stonehearst Asylum
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