The crazy thing is, you’re not crazy.
In the turbulent 1960’s everyone gains enlightenment, be it through drugs, protest, or sex. Everyone, it seems, except Susanna Kaysen. She’s just graduated her east coast high school only to find herself on an extended stay at a mental institution. James Mangold’s 1999 movie captures the thin line between normalcy and insanity at the heart of the author’s 1993 memoir Girl, Interrupted.
Susanna (Winona Ryder) gets classified as having a borderline personality disorder. Her rough patch is nothing compared to sometimes resident sociopath Lisa Rowe (Angelina Jolie). Other patients in the ward include a burn victim, an anorexic, and a lesbian. The role of Daisy Randone (played by the late Brittany Murphy) paints a sad picture of the impact of sexual abuse. Finally, the resident nurse, Valerie Evans (Whoopi Goldberg) shows the necessity of a humanizing touch when dealing with mental instability.
At one point during Susanna’s 18-month stay, her boyfriend Toby (Jared Leto, lead singer of 30 Seconds to Mars) comes for a visit. He’s about to leave for Canada so he can dodge the draft. Susanna refuses to run off with him, but they do get to spend a few moments together thanks to Lisa.
As one of the nurses walks the hall doing checks, Lisa wheels her chair in the nurse’s path. The conversation quickly escalates.
“Take one f**ing step and I’ll jam this into my aorta. Go ahead.”
Nurse Valerie leaves her desk and approaches. “Lisa, your aorta is in your chest.”
Lisa retracts the tip of the pen from her throat and lowers it. “Good to know.”
Many of the scenes take place in palely lit corridors which effectively heightens the sense of otherness that all of us feel, not just girls in an upscale mental ward. The constant play between perception and who is doing the perceiving makes this film well worth the watch.
As with the book, the movie is still told from Susanna’s point of view. However, Lisa’s character practically steals the show. Indeed, Jolie won an Academy Award, Gold Globe, and Screen Actors Guild award for her role as best supporting actress. Book to movie differences aside (Susanna and Lisa do not run away from the institution in the book) the film stands well enough on its own. Susanna Kaysen’s sparse prose and keen observations deserve the read.
Have you ever confused a dream with life? Or stolen something when you have the cash? Have you ever been blue? Or thought your train moving while sitting still? Maybe I was just crazy. Maybe it was the 60′s. Or maybe I was just a girl… interrupted.
4.25/5.0 Stars (“Really Liked It”)
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