Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
1999/ USA, Germany
Director: James Mangold
Girl Interrupted is a remarkable film that tells the phenomenal true story of a young woman, writer Susanna Kaysen, who spent 18 months in a psychiatric hospital in the 1960’s. Two-time Oscar nominee Winona Ryder gives an inspirational performance as Susanna Kaysen who conquers her problems and faces her fears…of herself. However, I have to say that the winning performance must be by Oscar winning Angelina Jolie in her role as sociopath Lisa.
This moving story tells of a woman questionably diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Susanna is rushed to the hospital as she has being having delusions and had an affair with the husband of her parents’ friend. A night of vodka and aspirin is indicated to be a suicide attempt by the Doctor, in which Susanna maintains is not true. She is recommended to voluntarily spend a short stay at Claymoore, a private mental hospital. There are several women receiving treatment in the hospital. Georgina (Clea DuVall) is a pathological liar. Polly (Elisabeth Moss) suffers from anxiety from being badly scarred in a fire. Daisy (Brittany Murphy) will not eat in the presence of other people and so potentially has social phobia or bulimia/anorexia. Lisa (Jolie) is a sociopath- a force to be reckoned with and the biggest influence on the other girls in the hospital. She is the biggest exasperation for the staff such as Nurse Valerie (Whoopi Goldberg). Lisa has a history of escaping so gaining access to personal medical files is not an issue, conversely, Susanna’s boyfriend Toby is concerned that she seems too comfortable living with her institutionalised friends. Susanna rebels against the nurse Valerie and psychiatrists and instead befriends the other women in the hospital. Susanna resolves to reclaim her freedom, as once you place yourself in the hospital, it is not so easy to get yourself out as Rosenhan (1973) proposes in the study of being sane in insane places as it was found to be difficult to distinguish between being sane and insane in a mental hospital.
Girl Interrupted exemplifies the psychological illnesses that many people in society face and that many also stereotype. This film not only demonstrates the many problems that people face, but uses a true story and real-life perspective to emphasise how many of these psychological illnesses are real and prevalent in today’s society. It does evoke an accurate perception of many issues that people face and does the story justice. Polly suffers from anxiety due to the trauma of being in a fire. Anxiety is a common issue in day to day life that is characterised by somatic, emotional, cognitive and emotional components. It involves excessive rumination, worrying, apprehension and fear. It appears that Daisy suffers from social phobia or bulimia as she cannot eat in front of anybody, whereas she still eats in excessive amounts and uses laxatives. This conveys that Daisy may suffer from these disorders which often have co-morbidity with anorexia and anxiety. Lisa is a sociopath (often referred to as psychopath, meaning that she is not a killer as many stereotypes imply, but is egocentric, manipulative, and impulsive and has a lack of moral responsibility that many people inherit. Girl Interrupted epitomises these psychological illnesses with extreme sensitivity. Susanna has, allegedly, borderline personality disorder, in which people would suffer from long term patterns of unstable or turbulent emotions such as their feelings about themselves or others. BPD causes people to take impulsive actions and experience chaotic relationships due to a number of reasons such as disrupted family life or abuse.
Throughout the film, these psychological illnesses are portrayed accurately and the story is extremely thought provoking. It is a rollercoaster of a film and is very captivating for the audience. What I love about Girl Interrupted is that it is not your stereotypical psychological film as it provides quite a true conception of what at the time, during the 1960’s, constituted being in a mental institution. It is engaging and compelling to observe women that you can relate to suffer from these illnesses, yet be so real. This film and story illustrates the power of friendship and is emotionally enthralling. It is done with such sensitivity and compassion and the performance by Jolie and Ryder are beautifully depicted. Girl Interrupted is a marvellous adaptation by James Mangold of a shocking yet captivating film with universal appeal. Only if more films ignored the stereotypes and more people engaged with issues in society and appreciated what they already have in life. If you love true stories, psychology or even just captivating films, this is one for you. One that is very appealing, yet still I have to say that it remains one below One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.