By Shawn McKenzie 09/03/2005
A movie can have good acting and have beautiful landscapes, yet it can also be boring at the same time. That is the problem with director David Mackenzie’s Asylum.
In England in 1959, Max Raphael (Hugh Bonneville) is the brand new Deputy Superintendent of a mental hospital called the Broadmoor Asylum. Jack Straffen (Joss Ackland), the current Superintendent, is grooming Max to take over for him one day. He has moved onto the grounds of the hospital with his wife Stella (Natasha Richardson) and their 10-year-old son Charlie (Gus Lewis.) Stella is bored with Max, because he is so stuffy and he works all of the time. The only friend that she has at the hospital is senior physician Peter Cleave (Ian McKellen.) Peter wanted the job that Max now has, and he is a little bitter about it. He is a specialist in sexual pathology, and his patient of interest is Edgar Stark (Marton Csokas), a sculptor who is locked up in the hospital for murdering and mutilating his wife in a jealous rage. Edgar has been there for six years, and he claims to be cured. He has been fixing up the hospital’s glass conservatory, and he piques Stella’s interest. Peter encourages Stella’s interest, because he wants to study this relationship. At a patients’ ball, she dances with Edgar, and not long after, she has sex with him in the conservatory. Max’s mother Brenda (Judy Parfitt) arrives and stays with them soon after the affair has started. She takes Charlie into town, leaving Stella free to have yet another tryst with Edgar. Brenda forgets something and has to come back, forcing Edgar to have to hide. Unfortunately, Charlie sees Edgar escape, but he doesn’t say anything at first. Edgar stows away in the back of Brenda’s car, then jumps out and escapes from the hospital. Stella makes several trips to London under the guise of early Christmas shopping, but is there to continue her affair with Edgar. The affair is soon discovered, and Stella leaves Max and Charlie to live with Edgar and his former assistant Nick (Sean Harris) in his artist’s loft in London. Madness begins to seep in, and Edgar starts becoming abusive. He is caught and is brought back to the hospital, which affects Stella’s mental state. She is locked up in the asylum as well, and Peter tries to help her out. A series of unfortunate things happen, leading to a depressing ending.
This is a very stuffy production with decent acting, but man…is it ever boring. It’s sort of like 2002’s Unfaithful, but not that interesting. You would think that a film with sex and violence would be, but it isn’t. I haven’t seen Mackenzie’s last movie, Young Adam, but from what I heard, it is much better than this one. I was hoping to see more of the evil manipulations of McKellen’s character, but it never materialized.
Filmed in Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, Asylum looks beautiful, but beauty can’t spark excitement. I was expecting more of a tale of madness, but it turned out to be a tale of melancholy. For me, depression always translates into boredom (see 2002’s The Hours, 2003’s Lost in Translation, or this year’s Last Days.) I don’t know…maybe I’m the one who’s crazy.
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