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Set in 1950's England, Asylum, a tale of erotic obsession, tells the story of Stella Raphael, a restless, beautiful woman who desperately desires to find in romantic love the one thing that will change everything. When her husband Max, an ambitious forensic psychiatrist becomes superintendent of a hospital for the criminally insane, Stella and her young son come with him to live on the grounds. Being in proximity of madness has a dangerous attraction for this woman; with its eerie, gothic beauty and endless echoing corridors, the institution itself seem to draw Stella in.

Asylum stars Natasha Richardson in an unsettling psychological thriller about the repressed, 1950s wife of a psychiatrist (Hugh Bonneville) and her affair with a convicted killer (Marton Csokas). Stella (Richardson), Max (Bonneville), and their son Charlie (Gus Lewis, who played the young Bruce Wayne in Batman Beyond) move to a high-security psychiatric hospital, where the priggish Max joins the staff and hopes to ascend, in time, to the top spot, replacing the soon-to-retire hospital director (Joss Ackland). Standing in Max's way is another doctor, Cleave (Ian McKellen), who takes a quiet yet somehow sinister interest in unhappy Stella's apparent attraction to Edgar (Csokas), a connection that will lead to more than one sorrowful end. Based on a novel by Patrick McGrath (who adapted his own Spider into the screenplay for David Cronenberg's 2002 film), Asylum is directed by David Mackenzie (Young Adam) with a subtle but growing apprehension of manipulated destiny in Cleave's hands. (It's hard not to think of Cleave as a villainous puppetmaster in Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse universe.) There are times when one might be tempted to dismiss Asylum as too opaque in its explanation for why Stella does the often wretched things she does. But patience is well rewarded: It takes full running time of the movie for the story's complete design to become clear. --Tom Keogh

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 148 reviews
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Asylum is a morbid, unsettling, and erotic film that you'll probably like. July 7 2006
By Jenny J.J.I. - Published on
Format: DVD
This film was recommended to me from Amazon because I'm also a fan of these types of movies. From "Basic Instinct" to "The Lover", these movies really intrigue me.This movie was directed by David Mackenize who also directed the overrated "Young Adam" which was cold and boring. "Asylum" on the other hand is a better achievement by the director. One of the factors that can add to the excitement and tension of the adulterous affair is the danger of being caught. Add to that, the fierce and idiosyncratic passion often attributed to artists. Then make the artist a raving psychopath and you have a pretty heady mix.

So finds the story of Asylum, your place into a world of sexual obsession, violence and madness. Stella (Natasha Richardson) is wearily married to Max (Hugh Bonneville), a psychiatrist working in a 1950s hospital for the criminally insane. He is overbearing to the point of being monstrous (by modern standards), joking to her about her being his 'pet patient' whilst expecting her to be a no-brainer wife who says the right things when introduced socially. In the initial build up, Mackenzie let's us see the smouldering lust in the face of inmate Edgar, who's incarcerated for murdering and decapitating his wife in a jealous rage. Just as he did with his previous movie, "Young Adam," Mackenzie excels at portraying barely sublimated animal sensuality, which soon bursts across the screen in a way that is at once base and beautiful. Helen knows how insane Edgar is, and her feelings for him, but she is gradually drawn into his web of madness, together with her son.

"Asylum" is visually appealing with it's dank, grey tones This film has it's explosions of repressed sexuality that is frightening in its force and surprising in its ending. Scenes of violence and sexuality make "Asylum" a film not for everyone. The R rating is not to be taken lightly, but it is a do not miss for anyone interested in a powerfully intense film that plumbs the depths of the human psyche. Natasha Richardson is fantastic as an ignored woman with a desire to be desired that wreaks destruction.
25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
"Give them up or don't come back" Jan. 20 2006
By A Customer - Published on
Format: DVD
Stella Raphael (Natasha Richardson) is a troubled woman. Repressed and bored, she's the long-suffering wife of a mental hospital's deputy director, Max Raphael (Hugh Bonneville). It's the late 1950s, and Stella's marriage to Max is a case study in dreariness and boredom. A puritanical psychiatrist, Max treats Stella like she's an undeserving servant, an excess piece of baggage there to fulfill Max's own whims.

Max has just landed an apparently cushy job at a British asylum outside London, and he expects Stella to not only fit in with all the other psychiatrist wives, but also do her best to make sure that his tenure at the hospital is made permanent. Their young son Charlie (Gus Lewis) gives Stella much pleasure, but there's still something missing in her life; it's just not enough to spend her days planning parties for the inmates and gossiping with her colleagues.

Her redeemer comes in the form of the enigmatic loony hunk Edgar (Marton Csokas), a sexy, handsome, brooding brute of a sculptor who once decapitated his wife for seeing other men. At first, Edgar helps Stella in her household chores, and becomes a playmate to young Charlie, but before long Stella is putting fresh lipstick on, swigging back the scotch for courage, and searching Edgar out for afternoon trysts in the rundown green house with hospital guards or family only scant hidden yards away.

The physical encounters are raw and sexual, with both of them unleashing all their bottled up frustrations and desires. Soon they are falling in love, both perhaps unaware that the affair can lead nowhere. Their fanatical obsession for one another soon gets the better of them, with Stella contemplating leaving her husband and child, while Edgar manages to escape, seeking refuge in the back alleyways of London.

Director, David MacKenzie follows Edgar and Stella as they progress in their affair that is so unlikely, but so well executed that it defies disbelief. Stella is formidably determined to attach herself to Edgar even though it means the end of her marriage, her relationship with her son, and her middle-class privileged life. But her nemesis ultimately comes in the form of Peter Cleave (Ian McKellan) a callous, snooping, and cleverly manipulative hospital administrator, who's on to Stella's affair with Edgar.

Stella's grim resolve to hook up with Edgar always seems to manifest itself at the wrong time and usually with the worse results, as she consciously embarks on a path of self destruction. Edgar is bad news, and Peter Cleave warns her about his penchant for violence, but there's little Stella can do to stop her runaway desires for him. She's not an evil person, like the psychopathic Edgar, but her fate ends up being intertwined with the patient rather than Max, who later on reveals that he is not such a bad husband after all.

It is mostly the lovely Natasha Richardson who holds this movie together, as she tries in vein to be the dutiful wife, making a concerted effort to fit in, trying to extract a like-minded conformity, when all she really wants to do is cut loose and act out her inner sexual fantasies, involving sordid quickies with her new found love on the floor amongst the broken glass of the tumbling down hot house.

Based on the book by Patrick McGrath, the film is well acted - particularly by the hunky Csokas, as the brooding and virile Edgar - and it's tightly directed, but it doesn't totally capture the furtive and darkly psychological nature of its source material. Whilst the film is no doubt compelling, and some of it is down right hot, the lust is sometimes overwrought and the passion dynamics often contrived and it all ends up coming across as something resembling psychosexual Harlequin romance, It's like an entertaining and darkly ironic potboiler melodrama, with a lunatic hunk at its center. Mike Leonard January 06.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Natasha Richardson portrays the psychology of personal destruction April 16 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: DVD
In the 1960s Max Raphael (Hugh Bonneville) becomes a director at an English asylum that dates from the Victorian era and that peculiar combination of lavish grounds and dungeons that reflected the evolving sensibilities towards the mentally ill. He is accompanied by his wife, Stella (Natasha Richardson), and their young son, Charlie (Gus Lewis), with the family living on the grounds. The family is greeted by Peter Cleave (Ian McKellen), who has been at this place for a long time, quite possibly since the days of good old Queen Victoria, and he expected to be given the administrative position. Now he is relegated to being Max's chief assistant, and when Max makes a point of remind Peter, "I am your superior," Peter responds by asking "In what sense?" The remark is uttered with a charming smile, but there is such an underlying threat behind it that you immediately think of the spider and the fly.

One of Peter's patients is Edgar Stark (Marton Csokas), who is assigned the task of rebuilding a gardener's shed that Stella wants to use. When Charlie, desperate for attention and some form of friendship, develops a relationship with Edgar, which has Stella concerned. When something happens to Charlie, she assumes Edgar is responsible, and when that turns out not to be the case, her feelings for Edgar turn into something else. The next thing we know, every opportunity she can find, Stella is stealing away to the shed for bouts of intense sex with Edgar. Stella never articulates her reasoning for this affair and we are left to piece together our own thoughts by looking at her relationships with her husband and son, the life she is forced to live at the asylum, and the mysterious stranger who wants her. Even when she finds out why he is in the asylum, it does not matter because her obsession is complete.

"Asylum" is not a love story, but rather a descent into Hell, and we can take comfort in knowing that Stella is beyond the pale so that we do not have to bring the grace of God into the equation. At some point it will be clear to you that Stella's character has no desire for redemption and you may well decide she does not deserve it anyway. Plus there is the question of how much Cleave is responsible for what happens. From the start of this 2005 film I was nervous about what McKellan's character was up to, and while I think he would claim more credit for events than is his due, I do not for a second believe his hands are clean. But this is really clearly Richardson's film, and I swear that she says virtually nothing in scene after scene. Every pivotal moment for her character is a look rather than a line of dialogue, because what she does from start to finish is more revealing than anything she ever says, and while we are riveted by the performance.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
A passion for passion . . . Aug. 23 2005
By Maurice Williams - Published on
A very well protrayed pseudo psychoanalysis of the dynamics of obsessive love. Asylum explores the pathos of obsession by way of a female character (Stella) that falls in love with a patient in the mental institution where her husband is positioned to become the next superintendent. The film does an excellent job of exploring the "at all cost" behavior of the obsessed. From a lifeless marriage to a life-threatening affair, Stella ends up without love, passion or security. The destruction of her life slowly unfolds, leaving the viewer guessing what will happen next and exactly how far she will take an affair that most sane people would have realized as dangerous, partially fulfilling, at best, and extremely short-term.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
So good! Oct. 25 2005
By R.K.M. - Published on
Format: DVD
I have to agree with the previous reviewer, albeit with fewer exclamation marks. This was a fabulous movie. Must be what they mean by character-driven fiction. All the actors were amazing and there was such palpable chemistry between the Ian McKellan and the two leads. It was amazing. It ended just the way it had to. I definitely intend to purchase it and recommend you do the same.