Or …The Jealous Sculptor and The Empty Princess

Max had just been appointed deputy superintendant of large asylum outside London.  Stella was just too wilful and needy  to be his wife.  She should have been an  actress or a singer; a celebrity.  She needed love on a bigger scale.  Coffee mornings with the other wives just bored her to tears.  She sat there, cool and distant, her chair slightly moved back to display the crossing of her elegant legs beneath the Paris dress,  the raised arm,  the casual cigarette.  She was the princess, the film star Stella, Audrey Hepburn, aloof and sophisticated, not of the same world.  So, with the smoke of her cigarette uncoiling,  she dreamt of concerts and the theatre, intelligent conversation and nights of passion, while the others,  dumpy, flowery, and perm-eager,  planned bring-and-buy sales and afternoon teas.  It wasn’t her scene, not even her act or play.  That kind of life just bored her. Everything bored her.  She was meant for something different, but what?

Stella was one of these women who had to live through her man.  She needed to be desired, possessed and consumed by her lover.  If she was not desired, she wasn’t a woman, she could not live.  She was empty, deplete, she no internal resources; nothing interested her.  So here she was, out in the sticks, living in a house in what was essentially a prison camp with a man, who was dedicated to his work and looked upon her with the same disdain as he did his patients.  Only her son, Charlie, gave her some of the need she so desired. 

Stella had the kind of narcissistic personality that desperately needed that focussed attention and devotion that only somebody who was a little crazed himself could give her.  Then she met Edgar and recognised herself in him, the feral desire in his naked gaze grew hot inside her.  But affairs need opportunity to ignite.  This was provided by the annual hospital ball.  She wore a revealing black dress, slinky as a sheath, plunging at the neck and back.  Edgar saw her and not so much asked but demanded she dance with him.  But when she felt the urgency in his erect penis and tilted her pelvis to meet it, she was lost;  there was no turning back.     

Edgar was a trusty, he had murdered his wife in a fit of jealousy but was now considered safe.  He had been sheltered under the sinister wing of Peter Cleave, the senior psychiatrist who had a special interest in sexual offenders.  Calmly brooding away his time until he could be discharged, Edgar was considered safe enough to work for the Raphael’s, but Cleave had not considered Stella’s role, or perhaps he had!  They met in the conservatory, fucked hurriedly among the broken glass, one eye open for wandering screws.  They hardly talked.  Theirs was an animal passion. 

One afternoon he came to the house, to her bedroom, but was nearly discovered.  He hid in the boot of Max’s car and was driven out of the grounds by his hatchet faced mother.  He escaped to London.

 As soon as it was safe, Stella invented the pretext of a shopping expedition in town and joined him for an afternoon of passion.  Max became suspicious, they argued and while he was at work, she packed a suitcase and left.  After a few weeks,  Edgar’s jealous rage was inflamed by a her flirtation with Nick, his partner.  He attacked her, beat her up, split her lip, but before he might do anything worse, she was arrested and returned to Max, who by this time had been dismissed and was working in North Wales.   

Edgar discovered where she was, arranged to meet her but was ambushed by the police.  Stella, dazed and confused left on a field trip with Charlie but she was so preoccupied  that she failed to notice when Charlie slipped into the dark lake and drowned. 

She watched the funeral from a police car and was then admitted to the asylum under Cleave, who offered to rescue her with an offer of marriage while at the same time taunting her with the possibility of meeting Edgar again at the annual ball.  Stella changed into the same black dress, but Edgar didn’t come.  He had been locked in his room by the devious Cleave, so Stella escaped on the tower and jumped, crashing to her death through the plate glass roof into the hall. 

So what are we to make of this?  To what extent were the major characters mad or to what extent were they driven mad?  Edgar was certainly the nearest to what we would recognise as madness.  He was the self obsessed artist, a Lucien Freud type figure who wanted to possess his subjects by creating them in clay.  His need for absolute control and possession was so great that any hint of betrayal, he would destroy the object of his obsession. He had bludgeoned his wife to death, cut out her eyes and removed her head.  Stella knew this, but was so excited by the passion and desire of the man, so needy, so impulsive, that she ignored the risk.  Like the extreme rock climber, she was willing to court death to achieve life.  And when it all became impossible and she was faced with a living death as an object in Cleave’s museum, what alternative had she but to kill herself.  

So who possessed who?  Edgar wanted to possess Stella by turning her into his object, his maquette.  Stella just wanted to be possessed.  But it was Cleave who possessed both of them.  They were his specials. 

And who was mad?  Well in a sense all three of them.  Madness might be said to occur when preoccupations become reality and acted upon.  So abandonment to any kind of passion, love, anger, revenge are all forms of madness, and if  sustained could well be sanctioned by society.  Cleave’s madness is more subtle since it is concealed behind a mask of professional authority but is the most dangerous of all.   


I wrote a blog on Asylum last year (2.11.09).  I didn’t look at it before I wrote this.  When you see a film for a second time, you see it differently.  Asylum is being discussed by Sandra Thomas at the Biennial Conference of The Hallam Institute for Psychotherapy on October 2nd