'Asylum': Crazy Love

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 19, 2005

Like some dramatization of a chapter from "Smart Women, Foolish Choices," "Asylum" tells the story of a very, very unwise relationship.

Stuck in a provincial backwater, where her cold-fish husband (Hugh Bonneville) is the assistant director of a mental institution, lonely housewife Stella Raphael (Natasha Richardson) soon begins an affair with one of the sanitarium's criminally insane patients, a handsome former sculptor named Edgar (Marton Csokas) who has been locked up there for many years after brutally butchering his wife in a fit of jealous rage. I repeat: after brutally butchering his wife in a fit of jealous rage. Clearly, Edgar's not the only crazy one around here.

I know it's all about erotic obsession, not logic. Still, it's just so darn annoying to watch this attractive, seemingly smart woman throw her life away for some (admittedly rather hot) sex in the greenhouse, where Edgar has been granted work-release, when it's so obvious, at least to the audience, that he's an emotional volcano about to blow. In due course, Stella and Edgar have run off to establish a love nest in a squalid dump in London with Edgar's former studio assistant, Nick (Sean Harris). By the time Edgar starts "turning" into the violent green-eyed monster we've always known him to be whenever Stella and Nick smile at each other, you may feel like shouting at the screen, "My God, woman, what were you thinking?"

But wait. It gets worse, as when Stella's love jones causes her to do something unspeakable -- and, quite frankly, dramatically implausible -- involving her young son (Augustus Jeremiah Lewis). The one thing that makes "Asylum" at all interesting, however, is not the relationship between Edgar and Stella, but between Edgar and his doctor, Peter Cleave (Ian McKellen), a creepy, manipulative villain if ever there was one. There's a hidden twist to this tawdry tale of what Dr. Cleave would call "sexual pathology and its associated catastrophes." It's a deliciously dark one, if less than a completely satisfying counterpoint to the film's infuriatingly bimbo-like tragic heroine.

Asylum (R, 90 minutes) -- Contains sex, nudity and violence. At Landmark's E Street Cinema and Bethesda Row and the Cineplex Odeon Shirlington.

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