Saturday, February 14, 2015

Stonehearst Asylum, Kate Beckinsale does Edgar Allan Poe

Such a tragedy that lunatic asylums have gone the way of lobotomies.  What will the paranormal investigators do a hundred years from now....investigate strip malls?  The insaniacs of the 19th century were kept behind walls.  Today, they stand in line with you at Costco, have free lawyers, impossible to evict, hijack the classroom you send your child to everyday, run for office, and date your daughters.  Progress?  Today's entry is 2014's "Stonehearst Asylum" (aka "Eliza Graves"), starring my favorite actress, Kate Beckinsale.  Ms. Beckinsale appeared on this blog on November 11, 2013 in my review of "Whiteout." This film was adapted from an Edgar Allan Poe story.
A rhetorical question: Has progress and science propelled us into an existence where love has been minimized in our psyche?  Dr. Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess) arrives at Stonehearst Lunatic Asylum.  Newgate has finished his psychology studies at Oxford University and seeks to study under the head doctor at the asylum.  He is met by Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley) who at first seems annoyed, then welcoming of this idealistic young shrink.  Lamb is interested in new psychological treatments utilizing kindness, and blending his insaniacs back into normal society.  Uh oh!  Newgate gets a glimpse of a mad hysteric who is institutionalized.  Eliza Graves (Beckinsale) has fits of uncontrolled violence, and was sent to the facility by her family after she bit her husband's ear off.  Who can blame Newgate for falling instantly in love with the supposed psychotic (..sounds like a Taylor Swift song, perhaps?)  To make matters a bit more complicated, Newgate quickly realizes the doctors and staff are all insane.  While prowling around one night, our young alienist discovers the real asylum staff, and head shrink, Dr. Benjamin Salt (Michael Caine).  They are locked in a sub-basement.  Salt tells Newgate of the rebellion which occurred and begs Newgate to help them.
As Newgate's infatuation for Eliza increases, he seeks to save her and the legitimate staff from the lunatics who now run the asylum.  As Newgate bides time, he proves himself to be a merciful and kind doctor, at times curing the seemingly incurable.  Now our naive hero must wrestle with a dilemma.  Does he free a staff which depended on barbaric and torturous measures, or allow a merciful lunatic to continue to rule?  Oh yes, Eliza!  Is she mad?  Being sexually assaulted was common under Salt's administration.  However, under Lamb's rule, she is a beautiful and graceful lady, composing beautiful scores.  The last 45 minutes is a wild ride.  You will pick up a couple of the plot twists, but not the important ones.
Themes of love, redemption, mercy, and madness permeate this film.  The acting is great, and Kate Beckinsale again shows why she is my favorite actress.  Brendan Gleeson also has a terrific role, key to the plot. To be considered sane in modern western civilization, have we cashed in our humanness in favor of a blunted conformity?  Available on Netflix, "Stonehearst Asylum" (directed by Brad Anderson) has the feel of a Hammer Horror film from the 1960s.  Even beyond Ms. Beckinsale, there is so much to enjoy about this movie.    

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