Hollywood Gone Mad: Film’s Best Ever Insane Asylums
We know we should be impartial… but we just can’t wait to see Sucker Punch this weekend. There we said it. To pass the time before its release on Friday 1st April we’ve decided to make a list of the best Movie Insane Asylums ever, to pay tribute to Babydoll and her pals as they bust out of the mad house in fine style. Okay, despite the title, this list isn’t actually going to contain any analysis of which asylum is the best; analysing patient care, success rate, hygiene and so on. What it actually is, is a look at films in which mental hospitals play an important part. You don’t have to be mad to watch these films, but… you get the point.
After an apparent suicide attempt, Susanna checks herself into Claymoore Private Mental Hospital where she meets some girls who are actually crazy. Angela Jolie won an Oscar for her performance as the sociopathic Lisa who, quite frankly, is one of the most unhinged female characters you’re ever likely to see and there’s also an appearance from Jared Leto as Susanna’s former boyfriend. Susanna herself is played by Winona Ryder, who has had troubles of her own – art imitating life? Probably not.
Terry Gilliam’s post-apocalyptic nightmare involves Bruce Willis getting sent back in time, arrested and locked in a mental institution. They probably should have done teh same after Armageddon as well. In the asylum he meets Brad Pitt, presumably also sent there from the future after leaving Jennifer Aniston for Angela Jolie (cue furious debate). But Willis’s character, James Cole, is supposed to be finding a cure for the virus that has been ruining the future Earth. Fortunately, the father of Pitt’s character is a renowned virologist which makes Cole’s job a lot easier. There you go, sometimes insane asylums can save the world.
The film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel is probably the most iconic depiction of a mental hospital in cinema history. The film won the ‘big five’ Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay in addition to four other nominations. Cuckoo’s Nest is a comedy with a tragic ending that follow’s Randle Patrick McMurphy as he tries to serve his prison sentence in the more relaxed environment of a mental hospital. His dislike of authority quickly gets him into trouble by rallying the patients against the dictatorial Nurse Ratched but, ultimately proves his undoing. Sometimes, raging against the machine is not a good idea.
The Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane which features heavily in Batman Begins and is seen in nearly every other film is not your average mental hospital for a number of reasons. Firstly, it only deals with the criminally insane, which means people who are so dangerous that they need a man like Batman to put them there in the first place. Secondly, it has an astonishingly high rate of escape – in the DC comics The Joker, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, Two-Face, The Scarecrow, Killer Croc, Black Mask and Harley Quinn all managed to break out. There’s also the small matter of Dr Jonathan Crane, a doctor who will make sure that even if you weren’t mad in the first place, you will be after his first ‘scarecrow therapy’ session. Arkham is also seen at the end of Batman Forever and in Batman & Robin *shudder*, when Mr Freeze gets taken there and is made cell mates with Poison Ivy. The real proof that they’re all mad, of course, comes in the fact that none of them figure out that Bruce Wayne just puts on a mask and growls a bit to become Batman. Incredible.
Getting trapped in an asylum without any idea as to why you are there sounds like the ultimate nightmare, but it’s exactly what happens to Virginia Cunningham in The Snake Pit. An inmate at the Juniper Hill State Hospital, Cunningham can’t remember anyone, even her husband. The film follows her therapy and treatment as she tries to discover who she actually is. Powerful stuff.
In T2, we meet Sarah Connor after she’s been sent to an unnamed mental hospital for the criminally insane following the events of the first film. It’s not altogether clear whether she belongs there or not, because although she’s telling the truth about the Terminators, she also has some fairly graphic dreams about her and a young John dying in a nuclear explosion. Having said that, it must be hard to keep a right mind when the guards are intent on raping you and the man in charge is sympathetic as Dr Silberman. The asylum also provides one of the film’s most memorable moments, when Sarah turns to see the Terminator coming out of the lift, realising all of her worst fears. Incidentally, if you’re ever trapped in a hospital and need to get out, Connor’s swift and brutal plan seems to be pretty effective.
Poor Ray Finkle. After being picked up by the Miami Dolphins in mid-season, he became a star kicker as the team went on to make the Super Bowl. But in the last seconds of the game, Finkle missed a field goal that would have won the game for Miami, blaming the miss on Quarterback Dan Marino for holding the ball ‘laces-in’ not ‘laces-out’. When Marino goes missing, Finkle is the prime suspect having recently escaped from Shady Acres insane asylum and Ace Ventura sneaks in to take a look at his room, which has the words ‘Laces out’ scrawled all over the walls. In reality though, Marino’s Dolphins only made the Super Bowl in 1985, losing 38-16 to the San Francisco 49ers – even Ray Finkle’s kicking couldn’t have saved them in that one.
Before Inception came Shutter Island, a film set in a remote asylum which, interestingly, is where many people ended up after being driven out of their minds by the pretentious storyline in Di Caprio’s dream-based blockbuster. Watch Leo as he tries to figure out what’s going on in this strange place and what happened to a female prisoner who disappeared. But the main question is: who are really the mad ones on Shutter Island? We’ll never tell.