What are Susanna's thoughts about suicide? Does she
think about it consciously? From the movie we are not sure.
Read the book and you'll get her philosophy in a nut-shell (so
to speak): "Suicide is a form of murder--premeditated murder.
You must practice imagining yourself dead, or in the process
of dying. If there's a window, you must imagine your body
falling out the window. If there's a knife, you must imagine
the knife piercing your skin. If there's a train coming, you
must imagine your torso flattened under the wheels. My
motives were weak: an American-history paper I didn't want
to write and the question I'd asked months earlier, Why not
kill myself? Dead, I wouldn't have to write the paper." How
is that for the author's dark humor? How can you bring this
out in a movie short of using the deadening gesture of a
narrative soundtrack? You could, I suppose, have her
express these beliefs to her therapist. But serving up this
and other thoughts could easily make the film into another
Magnolia-like three and one-quarter hour epic. After all, the
book is crammed with her unspoken contemplations and
inner deliberations: it would be a shame to include this one
and leave out others equally ironic and darkly whimsical.
During the course of the movie, the audience is rarely
given an indication of Susanna's sanity. Was she basically
OK and jostled into the institution because of a wicked
society determined to put away unconventional women? Or
did she really pose a danger to herself, hallucinating, seeing
things so differently that she would be unable to function in
society? I could not be sure from the film, but now,
consulting the text, I understand: "I was having a problem
with patterns. Oriental rugs, tile floors, printed curtains,
things like that. Supermarkets were specially bad because of
the long, hypnotic checkerboard aisles. When I looked at
these things, I saw other things within them. When I looked
at someone's face, I often did not maintain an unbroken
connection to the concept of a face. Once you start parsing
a face, it's a peculiar item: squishy, pointy, with lots of air
vents and wet spots. This was the reverse of my problem
with patterns. Instead of seeing too much meaning, I didn't
But wait! She modifies her statement. "I wasn't simply
going nuts. I was at all times perfectly conscious of my
misperceptions of reality. I never believed anything I saw or
thought I saw. I correctly understood each new weird
activity." This gives the reader plenty of stuff to chew on.
What really classifies people as nuts? Their actual belief in
the truth of their hallucinations? Or the mere fact that they
see things that are not there? The movie ignores this
question leaving us nothing to ponder.
Strangely enough, Mangold leaves out much explanation of
the film's title. The book clarifies...At New York's Frick
Museum, Kaysen ponders Vermeer's painting, one of a girl
seated with her piano teacher but looking wistfully through
the window. "This time I read the title of the painting: 'Girl
Interrupted at Her Music.' Interrupted at her music: as my life
had been, interrupted in the music of being seventeen, as her
life had been. My boyfriend found me crying in the hallway.
'Don't you see, she's trying to get out,' I pointed at her. He
looked at the painting. 'All you ever think about is yourself.
You don't understand anything about art.'"
Depending on where you live, you should be able to access
between 100 and 450 brand new movies this year. Some
use screenplays adapted from novels and biographies, others
are original. There is no defining characteristic that allows us
to know to which category a given film lies, unless we have
advance knowledge of the production or are familiar with the
book from which it is taken. Who is to say that "Being John
Malkovich" would be better on the printed page or on the
screen? We have no way of knowing since the film is an
original. But in the case of "Girl, Interrupted," Mangold
necessarily misses out on quite a bit of the author's anger,
even such basic information as the rationale of the title.
Kaysen's caustic wit, pronounced irony, personal viewpoints
and even ordinary descriptive information go largely and
perhaps necessarily neglected. Do you think--as I do not--
that the movie is better than the book?
Copyright © 2000 Harvey Karten