The Cinematic Masterpiece that is “Girl, Interrupted.”

The Cinematic Masterpiece that is “Girl, Interrupted.”

‘Girl, Interrupted’ to me, is all the cliché, out there, movies that try to tackle sensitive, timely topics done the right way. The movie brings to life a range of extremely delicate matters and truly is the holy grail of all mental illnesses and the closely associated institutionalization of them. Moving on, I’m sorry not sorry for the spoilers, and more than that, for now making you want to watch a movie that will probably linger in your minds for years to come!

The Basics

The basics first: it falls under the ‘thriller’ genre, and more particularly, under ‘psychological thriller’, and has a run-time of 2 hours, 7 minutes. It was released all the way in 1999 and was produced by James Mangold. It was an adaptation of the autographical book ‘Girl, Interrupted’ by Susanna Kaysen and won multiple awards, most of which were for the amazing performance by Angelina Jolie!

The Cast

I feel the cast is the best starting point if my motive is to sell the movie, so prepare to be mind-blown! The beautiful and talented Winona Ryder plays Susanna Kaysen, the main character who is admitted to a mental hospital following her alleged suicide attempt. There she meets Lisa Rowe played by Angelina Jolie (who does the most perfect job bringing her to life), Daisy Randone played by the lovely Brittney Murphey, Polly Clarke, played by the talented Elizabeth Moss, Georgina Tuskin, played by Clea DuVall (aka one of the most iconic women to step foot into this planet). Susanna is taken care of by Valerie Owens played by one the only Whoopi Goldberg. The rather ‘interesting’ Jared Leto plays the character of Susanna’s boyfriend and in my honest opinion, as men often tend to be, is immaterial to the plot (jokes!)

Brief Synopsis and Themes Considered

I don’t want to spoil too much of the storyline so I will purposefully resort to a very brief yet somewhat solid synopsis (you’re welcome!). Upon a failed suicide attempt, Susanna is admitted to the hospital. She is then met with her father’s friend, a psychiatrist, who admits her to Claymoore despite her repeated claims of being okay. There she is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and given the world’s most vague explanation of her condition. Here the film hints at the deficiencies and the generic nature of the text book definitions of mental illnesses and shows how they probably aren’t the best to actually treat or diagnose patients. 

The social judgement posed on the mentally unwell is another angle explored, particularly through a scene where her parents rush to bring Susanna home for Christmas merely to avoid any uncomfortable confrontations about Susanna back home.How the conditions of the institution lead her to eventually succumb to the madness too is made implicitly clear, the girl who arrived at Claymoore amidst protest was convinced she was clinically insane by the time her boyfriend came to rescue her from the same place. The movie looks into the superficial, profit-oriented nature of these institutions as well. How Daisy was allowed to leave the institution despite being nowhere near recovery just because of her father’s wealth is exemplary of this. Through her character, we also see how victims of violence are far more likely to be on the receiving end of mental illness than the perpetrators themselves. 

The movie also looks at how incompetent these institutions are at actually treating their patients. This is portrayed when the hospital staff resort to constraining Polly when she has a breakdown, when in fact a more formidable form of treatment would have been to play some music, which some of the staff were avidly aware she liked. What stood out for me also was the issue with big pharmaceutical corporations and the heavy medications prescribed, at times against the will of the patients. Nowhere in the movie do we see the doctors ask their patients if the treatment is working, the patients have no say in how they choose to be treated and ultimately fall victim to having to administer multiple forms of medication. 

A point that I do need to bring up is the issue with the alleged glorification of mental illness, specifically the character of Lisa. While I’m not too sure how I feel about the criticism, I would say that anyone who wants to watch it might want to keep an eye out for this one fact. The one-dimensional, simplistic representation of the supporting characters has also been a point of criticism in the movie. The problematic portrayal of BPD too is an issue as the movie tends to focus only on the ‘sexy, fun-to-watch’ bits of her illness like promiscuity and impulsivity while being largely oblivious of the more villainous aspects of BPD.

What else to look forward to?
My review, if anything was a very surface level analysis of areas that stood out to me.  I would definitely recommend watching the full movie for a rather indulging experience that leaves you thinking about problematic aspects of everyday phenomena we may think are commonplace. Another reason to watch the movie is its soundtrack! Mycheal Danna has composed a series of wonderful pieces to elevate your overall experience of the movie. So, hoping I did enough to convince you to watch Girl, Interrupted, I’ll stop interrupting your day with my yapping.

Rtr. Sajani Jayasinghe

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