Stonehearst Asylum: A Historical Film With a Poignant Message for Today

Stonehearst asylum is a movie made in 2014 set in an insane asylum around the 1900’s. The premise is a Dr. Newgate comes to Stonehearst out of Oxford college to become a medical resident under Dr. Lamb, the superintendent. There, he learns of Dr. Lamb’s progressive treatments he uses with his patients, including not using restraints or drugs, and letting them keep their delusions. He believes keeping them occupied helps them in their recovery from insanity. Dr. Newgate takes a liking to one particular resident, Mrs. Graves who is there for hysteria. Dr. Newgate is taught valuable lessons in treating the patients with dignity and seeing their humanity beyond just drugging them and subduing their behaviors. However, it is not as it seems. One night, he goes downstairs and discovers a bunch of people kept imprisoned in the basement. It is revealed that they are actually the real staff of Stonehearst and Dr. Lamb is an impostor! Dr. Lamb and his staff are actually residents who staged an uprising and overthrew the asylum! Dr. Lamb is cunning and has a dark past as a military surgeon which had to do with his admission to the facility. Dr. Newgate tries to rescue the former staff and asks Mrs. Graves to help him. She refuses, however, and reveals that Dr. Salt, the real superintendent, used all sorts of cruel and dehumanizing treatments on the patients including her. Dr. Newgate asks the head nurse of the former staff how to defeat Dr. Lamb, but she says to view him as a patient, and to heal, not defeat him in order to overpower him.  Dr. Lamb’s running of the asylum starts to fall apart, with them running out of food and heating for the winter. This escalates the situation, and Dr. Lamb becomes suspicious of Dr. Newman. The height of the crisis reaches it’s peak during New Year’s when Dr. Newman, with Mrs. Graves’s help tries to usurp Lamb’s power. Dr. Lamb ends up strapping Dr. Newman into a chair to use electrotherapy to make him a patient there too. as a last request, Dr. Newman asks Dr. Lamb to give a pocket watch to Mrs. Graves, but instead pulls out a picture of a soldier he killed during his time as a military surgeon that Dr. Newgate found in the isolation room where Dr. Lamb stayed as a resident. This gives him a huge flashback and he becomes incapacitated. Meanwhile, Mickey, Dr. Lamb’s henchman tries to take over the electrotherapy. Mrs. Graves comes to the rescue and fights him off, killing him when he electrocutes himself, but also starts a huge fire! Both Dr. Newman and Mrs. Grey rescue the patients, former staff, and even Dr. Lamb. The film flashes forward to the asylum being run more gently and humanely by the former head nurse, and the return of Mrs. Grave’s husband asking for her discharge. Problem is, she was discharged 3 weeks ago by Dr. Newman! This is impossible, the doctor accompanying him says, because He’s Dr. Newman! In one of the biggest plot twists of all, “Dr. Newman” is not a doctor, nor his name is Newman! He is revealed to be an escaped mental patient himself, who fell in love with Mrs. Graves at a medical seminar they were both exhibited at! Mrs. Graves was there because her husband abused her and her father put her there to escape him. In the end, it is revealed that “Dr, Newman”, the impostor, and she set up a new asylum in Italy, and run it with Lamb’s humane methods.

Overall, I thought the film was very good! It had suspense, and violence, but it falls under a more intelligent genre that an average horror/thriller film. It is intellectual in its underlying message: treating patients with dignity and humanity is the best way to treat them. The characters were good, and the plot twists where a true surprise! Everything was not what it seemed! I especially like the complexity of Lamb’s character. He is shown Related imageas progressive and kind, but turns into a much more sinister and sadistic figure. On one hand, his methods were much more gentle and humane than the dehumanizing treatments of the day, but he had a dark past and goes to evil lengths to get his way, truly showing his madness. He is the bad guy, yet as the head nurse said, “Even Silas (Dr. Lamb’s first name), has some good in him.” His treatment methods are kind and he truly cares for his patients, but anyone who stands in his way gets the brunt of his cruel side. What stood out to me too, is they didn’t just give him the “bad guy treatment”. It wasn’t about defeating him, but healing him. The way he was ultimately defeated was to be faced with his innermost demons and the side he hid from the world and himself. Dr. Newman even comforted him in the end before he completely lost his mind and was even a patent in the institution still! The clear message is, that by truly healing people, it conquers their demons. Even the disturbed Dr. Lamb was treated with sympathy and compassion in the end. I also liked how Dr. Newman got to grow as a doctor, by learning the lesson of treating patients with compassion and dignity. Even though he wasn’t a doctor, but a patient himself, as it was revealed, he made a great doctor! His compassion and true understanding made him the perfect doctor for the ward. His fate as the head of his own institution fit him well.

The message throughout the film is truly contemporary, yet reflects the changes in thinking at the time. Giving the patients meaningful things to do, simulation, compassion, is now the modern philosophy. Excessive restraints and inhumane treatments even then were being phased out gradually giving way to more fulfilling patient care. By not suppressing their behaviors, but finding avenues for them was shown to have worked far better in truly healing them. Indeed, I could argue the main theme of the movie was about healing. Healing the patients, and even healing the bad guys like Dr. Lamb. I also loved the film from other historical aspects too, such as the terminology, like “alienist” (now a psychiatrist), and the antiquated terms such as “Mongolism”, “Dementia Praecox”, “Idiot”, “Imbecile”, “chronic homosexuality”, even “excessive masturbation”, to name a few! The writers clearly did research into the real history of institutions and psychiatry. They even depicted some treatments accurately from back then, like water treatment, electrotherapy, and a steam room. They truly made an effort to get the details right! The historical elements made the film so much more immensely enjoyable for me!

Overall, the film was an excellent look into the history of psychiatry, with a cool plot line! The plot is intellectual, and not just dumb horror scares in many “asylum” films, but tells a story with a message that rings clear today: treating patients with dignity and compassion. Here’s the link to watch the entire movie! Stonehearst Asylum


About History Is Interesting

I like ancient and medieval history!
This entry was posted in Modern History, Opinion Piece, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Stonehearst Asylum: A Historical Film With a Poignant Message for Today

  1. Retrojackie says:

    Very interesting article! Great review!!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

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