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Asylum: A Film By Peter Robinson
Asylum A Film By Peter Robinson
Actors: R.D. Laing, Leon Redler, David Bell, Julia
Director: Peter Robinson
Genres: Documentary
NR     2004     1hr 35min

Studio: Kino International Release Date: 07/06/2004 Run time: 95 minutes


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Movie Details

Actors: R.D. Laing, Leon Redler, David Bell, Julia
Director: Peter Robinson
Creators: Richard W. Adams, Peter Robinson, Arthur J. Rosenthal, Peter Frelinghuysen
Genres: Documentary
Sub-Genres: Documentary
Studio: Kino Video
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 07/06/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 35min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 5
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Doc Maven | NYC | 08/31/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

""Asylum" (1972) follows some who sought refuge from a world where cellblocks, crude tranquilizers, even electroshock and lobotomies were still considered normal by too many mental health institutions.

Though these terrible practices inside the clinics and the violence outside (the war in Vietnam, etc.) is never specifically shown, one can certainly sense that many in the film felt that the Establishment they left behind inside and outside the clinics had become an asylum run by lunatics.

So these patients and workers took refuge in a pioneering commune where "peace" was not just a slogan but a daily practice that was certainly tested to its limit. "Asylum" records filmmaker Peter Robinson and his small crew's stay in radical psychiatrist R. D. Laing's controversial Archway Community. Laing's conviction that schizophrenics can only heal their shattered "self" where they're free, responsible for their actions, and dialogue with therapists who have no key that any inmate does not also have. "I think it's possible to get lost here," offers one uneasy medical volunteer who feels the commune spiraling into a tribal cult.

The inmate David rises to power, spouting unending and increasingly menacing discourse; illogical/logic that would perhaps be perfectly sane "Through the Looking Glass".

"What is sane?" is often thrown into question as we meet the therapists who have interned themselves there to escape a "society of terror", and the oppressive yet successful parents of an young resident they have tried to "cure" by hiring a prostitute lest he eventually turn "you know, [...]".

Hailed as "beautifully done" by The Village Voice at the time of its 1972 release, Asylum has since become "a model of cinema verité." (The New York Times). It makes a wonderful companion to "One Flew Over a Cuckoos Nest", and (small independents like) Lars Von Trier's "The Idiots" and Ingmar Bergman's "Through a Glass Darkly". For a sense of the world and war swirling outside the asylum, I also recommend the documentary "Hearts and Minds" and "The Weather Underground" to re-visit a time (not unlike the one we live in now) where violence and insanity in the Established Order ruled the madhouse."
The stars have taken over the plot.
G. Joly | 03/08/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This film is a very good exposition of the Archway Community, with some analysis by R. D. Laing. The Philadelphia Association put several mentally ill people into a community, along with the psychiatrists. They aimed to lead normal lives: they paid the rent, etc etc. They argued and shouted. This is their film. The story is told as "bare bones", cinema very veritee."
How it works in the real world.
Ted Byrd | 04/25/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I have a fondness for exploring the cultish ideas which swept through society during the 1960's and 1970's. This can probably be attributed to nostalgia, since this was the time of my coming of age. At any rate, it was a time when many radical ideas appeared in books with psychedelic New Age covers. I had intended to read something by R.D. Laing, as I had run across references about his being a radical psychotherapist of those times, when I learned of this documentary and thought it might provide a good introduction to his work.

One thing which became very clear to me as I watched this film was that receiving someone's ideas from the printed page provides only a very partial and idealized view of the validity of those ideas. The author is in control of what information he gives you and naturally will present his personal theories in the best light possible. This film, on the other hand, gives us the opportunity to see some dedicated therapists attempting to put Laing's ideas to use to help some people with real-world mental problems, some of those problems obviously serious ones.

Personally, I didn't see that the documentary proved anything one way or the other about the effectiveness of the therapy. But one thing it makes abundantly clear is the difficulty of dealing with several people with a variety of emotional issues in a mostly unstructured environment. The idea was to provide an alternative type of family atmosphere where people could be a part of the group without the negative(according to Laing)influences of traditional families. Unfortunately, it was shown that such a voluntary association of people looking for mutual support can be completely disrupted by just one renegade who compulsively interrupts and monopolizes every gathering.

But even aside from the difficulties in dealing with the disruptive group member, it was evident that many of the other members also had severe emotional or personality problems. According to web sources, Laing thought most mental illness was the result of harmful childhood family situations, and that schizophrenia, in particular, was the result of the child being given conflicting information or being put in a "double-bind", where there is no correct choice of behavior. He did not believe in treating mental illness medically, but thought that if the patient could gain insight into the formative causes of his illness, then he might improve. Those ideas seem to have some validity when considered abstractly, but when witnessing the very non-tidy(in a logical sense)behavior patterns and situations which arose in this group home, I felt some misgivings about the efficacy of a one-discipline approach to mental illness.

Evidently Laing's ideas are out of favor these days, and medication is the most important, and sometimes the only, tool used to deal with mental illness. I think there is something very appealing about his notion of finding health through self-knowledge, rather than taking a pill. I found the film interesting because it seems representative of a social era in which I am interested, and also because it allows us to see very vividly a confrontation between theoretical ideas and the real-life people who are the would-be beneficiaries of those ideas."