THE ASYLUM/ DIE ANSTALT
Germany, 1979, 92 minutes, Colour.
Gerd Baltus, Susanne Granzer.
Directed by Hans- Rudiger Minow.
From the Melbourne International Film Festival, 1979. In 1975 articles appeared in the American and German press about psychiatrists who disguised themselves as patients to enter mental institutions in California and Illinois, to uncover evidence that some committed schizophrenic patients were, in fact, sane and healthy, but medically mistreated by doctors and attendants.
Director Hans- Rudiger Minow, who specialises in fully researched documentaries of a socio-political nature made a fiction-documentary based on the experiences of the American psychiatrists reported in the press.
The Asylum presents several factual scenes of the treatment of schizophrenics in mental asylums. The story focuses on a young psychologist, Anna Theyn, who commits herself to an asylum under a false name. The head of the clinic, Dr Reinecke, believes that psychiatric illnesses are hereditary, his assistant Dr Bongartz, experiments with alcoholics.
When Anna starts a diary, noting her observations, the patients soon begin to suspect that she may be a disguised journalist, but the head physician thinks she is ill, suffering from "writing mania'.
After seeing a patient being injected with a drug to induce an epileptic fit Anna begins to fee! threatened, and when her parents come to visit her, she decides to leave. But the parents believe the doctors and refuse to take her with them. Anna is drugged and placed in an isolation cell.
When an anonymous telephone call alerts Dr Reinecke that malingerers are trying to expose the management of the clinic he feverishly sets out to track down the pseudo-patients.
1. An interesting story, documentary? The role of fiction documentary films? reporting situations? Emotional involvement with situations and characters? Didactic, for change in attitudes, systems?
2. Audience attitudes to and knowledge of asylums? Presuppositions? Attitudes towards mental illness, schizophrenia, the strengths and weaknesses of various treatments? Theories of mental illness and their physical factors? Spiritual factors? The variety of treatments available?
3. Audience attitudes towards systems, the possibility of corruption, cover-ups and the need for exposure? How would this alter response to Anne, the asylum itself, the situations and the need for reform?
4. The sombreness of the black and white photography? Appropriate for the theme of the film? The contribution of the musical score? The documentary appearance of the film, technical aspects, jargon?
5. The device of having the narrative of Anna Theyn? Her communicating with the audience and asking us to share her experiences as well as her judgments? The flashback technique?
6. The portrait of Anna as a student, seeing her in the learning situation? The emphasis on genetic factors for mental illness? What motivated her in applying to enter the asylum as a pseudo-patient? The legal arrangements? The framework of her being released and her judgments on her experience and the flashbacks involving the audience with her experiences within the asylum? her entry, her disgust at the treatment, her sympathy for the patients, her gradually being trapped, the encounter with her parents and their leaving her there, the revelation of the truth and the revelations about the asylum?
7. What did she learn from her experience? What did the audience learn? How was this summed up symbolically in the motor accident at the end?
8. The presentation of the administration of the asylum? Dr Reinke? His strong emphasis on genetic factors and treatments for mental illness? The attitudes of the staff and Dr Reinke's control over them? The way that they did their diagnoses, the slipshod entry into the asylum? Lack of knowledge of patients? Arbitrary principles and methods? The importance of the good name of the asylum? Fear at exposures, the efforts made to cover up? The point being made in the critique of Dr Reinke and the administration?
9. The assistants in the administration, especially the doctor in charge of experiments with alcoholics, the certainty of his approach, his smugness and self-satisfaction, his attitudes towards Anna, his presence at the meeting and his reaction to the exposure, his breakdown? Credible? The point being made for the film?
10. The sympathetic members of the staff, their work with the patients, their attitudes towards Dr Reinke, their collusion in their plan against Dr Reinke, the working out of their plan by phone calls and the giving of information?
11. The portrait of the patients? the reasons for their being in the asylum, sleeping, feeding, the convulsion treatment, the reward system for the alcoholics etc.? The ugliness of such treatments especially injections, shock treatments?
12. Anna and her presence in the ward, her notes, friendship with the patients, participation in their sufferings? The importance of the visit with her parents and their not knowing the truth, her father's decision to leave her there? The violence and the treatment of this? her being tied up, the interrogations?
13. Anna's confrontation of the system, her telling of the truth, Dr Reinke and his lack of belief, his taking the phone tip and presumptions about pseudo-patients? The effect of Anna's confrontation? would it lend anywhere? Dr Reinke moving into new jargon and keeping the good name of the asylum?
14. What is sanity, insanity? What are the criteria? Who judges? The appropriateness of treatment? Law and morality as regards the treatment of insanity?
15. The dramatic treatment of these themes, realistic, symbolic, the simplification of issues, the promotion of various therapies especially at the end and the questionable nature of their usefulness? The importance of detail or the importance of the points being made?