'Girl, Interrupted' asks us to recall the feelings we have for another film
about mental illness and the institutions that thrive on it and that film
is, of course, 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. Anyone who doesn't have a
re-collection of that film before, during or after 'Girl, Interrupted', is
not a movie fan or has a very short memory. This film is taken at a mental
institution in the 60's. So was 'Cuckoo's Nest' (although it was made in
1975). This film has a large supporting cast aside from the main lead and
supporting character. So did 'Cuckoo's Nest'. This film has a field trip
where the characters are briefly free from the rules. Ditto for 'Cuckoo's
Nest'. This film has a head nurse who looks after the patients along with a
mousy assistant. So did 'Cuckoo's Nest'. So what's the attraction?
Primarily that 'Girl, Interrupted' is a true story, although it is a thin
one with all the trappings you would expect from a writer whom I suspect,
took liberties with the truth because some of the things we see in this film
are in direct relation to 'Cuckoo's Nest'. All right, enough about the Jack
Nicholson/Milos Forman classic and let's get down to business.
Winona Ryder plays Susanna Kaysen, a young woman who displays suicidal
tendencies by downing a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of alcoholic. She
checks into a mental hospital and begins therapy where she is diagnosed by
her physician as having Borderline Personality Disorder. Oh, the irony of
it all. Throughout it all, we wonder if this is really the case or if
Susanna is just a mixed up young woman who simply is succumbing to the
pressure of sorting out her chaotic life with pressure from her upper middle
class family not making it any easier for her.
Among the many people Susanna meets is Lisa (Angelina Jolie) who has a bumpy
first encounter with Susanna. Susanna is given a room where a friend of
Lisa's used to reside. Lisa is brought back to the institution after being
gone for a long period of time (she escaped) and violently confronts Susanna
as to why she is taking up the space occupied by her friend. We learn that
the friend committed suicide and Susanna has taken her place. Lisa displays
psychotic qualities that make her a danger to the outside world. She has no
regard for peace and tranquility. She is a psychotic. Her body is in a
constant state of anarchy. She has to be restrained at several points in
the film and threatens at one point to kill herself but gives in easily,
making her mental disorder all the more bizarre.
Like any film that has some sort of plot about mental illness, 'Girl,
Interrupted' forces us to take a look at ourselves and ask if, perhaps, we
need to evaluate our own lives. In Canada, 25% of the population at some
point in life, will suffer from some sort of mental illness. Many don't
realize that this DOESN'T mean being crazy. It simply means suffering a
certain dismal aspect on the part of the mind. Some suffer from depression,
some paranoia and some from sharp and severe mood swings. Actually, Winona
Ryder's portrayal of Susanna seems quite normal compared to her friends in
Director James Mangold ('Copland') directs the film in a pretty even
fashion, building his climax to a satisfying, if somewhat "all seen before"
conclusion. The film is written by Mangold, Lisa Loomer and Anna Hamilton
Phelan based on the novel by Susanna Kaysen.
To its obvious credit, the saving grace in 'Girl, Interrupted', comes from
its bonding of the characters involved. There is a genuine goodness in the
fact that deep down inside many of them are little girls living inside the
bodies of grown women. The film, while diving right into the subject of
mental illness, also has a certain innocence about it that makes it warm and
likable to a large extent. It is no classic but it is a film that is of
high social merit and has to its further credit the ability to pace itself
at a good level and it avoids being pretentious.
Copyright © 2000 Walter Frith