On my own on Wednesday evening, I watched Stonehearst Asylum which I had put into my queue some time ago. Netflix has it categorized with a lot of horror movies, but I would describe it more as a mild psychological thriller. I don't do horror movies, and I don't handle movies with a lot of violence or suspense, but I had no issues with most of this movie.
The movie begins in 1899 with a male Oxford University medical school lecturer presenting cases of medical illnesses to his students. The attitudes presented towards women and “hysteria,” a now-extinct description of emotional issues arising from the uterus, are horrifying but unfortunately accurate for beliefs of the time. At the end of the scene, the doctor proclaims, "Thus, I caution you all, gentlemen, as you embark on your careers as alienists [psychiatrists], believe nothing that you hear and only one half of what you see." Sadly, that’s not a 19th century attitude. It’s one that many doctors, not just psychiatrists, still hold today.
As the movie unfolds, the main character of Dr. Edward Newgate meets a woman in the Stonehearst Asylum who is clearly suffering from what we would call PTSD but who is not mentally ill at a level that requires institutionalization. One of their first discussions brought a great laugh to me:
Lady Eliza Graves: Are you quite certain you're a doctor?
Edward Newgate, MD: Yeah, well, of course I am.
Graves: Because I've never known one to apologize. Or, for that matter, give a damn who he offended.
Newgate: Well, I'm not like other doctors.
Again, it’s a sad truth that still applies to many doctors and healers today.
As the movie progresses, we see what horrifying treatments of the period looked like; some are still in practice today including drugging patients into a manageable stupor. We also get a glimpse into what it might be like if patients ran the asylum. The difference in care is amazing. During a concluding scene in the movie, the lead character Dr. Newgate tells another character in all sincerity and disgust, “You're mad.” The other character retorts, “We're all mad, Dr. Newgate. Some are simply not mad enough to admit it.” Again, it’s a statement that echoes with truth.
Stonehearst Asylum contains several surprising twists that kept me captivated all of the way to the end of the movie. The themes of who is sane and who is mad continue to run through my head. The engaging characters also seem to have possessed my mind. I really enjoy movies like this one that leave me with great thoughts for many days after.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC