Girl, Interrupted - Let's talk plot, character and mental health

Other | Saturday 15th April 2017 | Charlotte Layton

Have you ever come across a film, that’s completely different from your chosen, glorified genre, yet, the film completely blows your mind? Girl, Interrupted, is one of those films. Away from the guts and gore from your typical horror, or the thirst for money and power in your typical gangster film – this eighteen-year-old, coming-of-age chick-flick film, is in fact a film that really quenches the thirst for film.

Set in the 1960s, Girl, Interrupted, is the true story of Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder), a young woman who finds herself at the renowned psychiatric hospital (Claymoore) for troubled young women, after suffering a botched suicide attempt. During her stay at Claymoore, she is diagnosed with  the mental health condition; Borderline Personality Disorder. Shortly after arriving, Susanna meets the “others”. A line-up of weirdo’s and wackos, who are presided over by the undeniably smug, yet understanding female ward nurse, played by Whoopie Goldberg.

Among those on the ward, Susanna befriends Polly, a child-like schizophrenic who had once set herself on fire in order to keep her pet dog; Georgina, a pathological liar, who had convinced herself that her father works for the CIA; and Daisy, a self-harming sex abuse victim, with OCD, who also suffers with a complex eating disorder. Above all, Susanna becomes fascinatedly infatuated by the ward’s longest resident, Lisa (Angelina Jolie), who is a manipulative and rebellious character, yet, an extraordinarily charismatic young woman, diagnosed as a sociopath.

As Lisa and Susanna’s relationship deepens, Lisa encourages her to stop taking her medication, hulting both their progress in “recovery”. The new found friendships shows the group as seeming lost through the journey of life, while uncertain about future goals and life outside the psychiatric hospital. The girls indulge within their own child-like fantasies and sense of self, while acting on impulsive pranks for their own amusement. Yet, the  relationship between Lisa and Susanna, begins to prove extraordinarily volatile. Lisa indulges in her own sadistic fantasies that become an obscured reality, through manipulation. Yet, it becomes clear that Lisa isn't beyond violently attacking others if it all comes tumbling down.

After disappearing one night for shock therapy and forced, medicated treatment, Lisa comes back, seeming completely lost and almost broken. She confuses Susanna with her previous friend Jamie, who had killed herself one night, after another of Lisa's compulsive disappearances. Nevertheless, Lisa manages to convinces Susanna to break out of the hospital with her, and the two runaway to the home of the newly released Daisy, in great hope that, from Daisy's, they will make it to Florida. 

Although, Lisa has absolutly no patience for the self-harming Daisy at all; yet she isn’t above using the young woman, knowing that she will have shelter and money and she will hand it over – no questions asked. Yet, Lisa’s hatefulness resurfaces rather rapidly, which turns into a string of verbal abuses towards Daisy. Lisa exposes Daisy’s incestuous relationship with her father, leaving Daisy desperate, lost and in tears.

The young woman retreates to the saftey of her bedroom, leaving Lisa and Susanna to do as they please. Susanna tries to make amends with no such luck. The following morning, Susanna bids to try and sooth Daisy again, but as she creeps into the upstairs landing, she finds that Daisy had killed herself. It is in this moment that Susanna had finally reached her point of reason, and comes to the conclusion that she doesn’t want to become like Lisa. She phones for an ambulance and returns to Claymoore, with Daisy's only companian - a young cat.

She finally accepts her treatment with her new-found positive outlook on life, and free from the clutches of Lisa. Susanna stops feeling sorry for herself, and throws her extra time into her writing and co-operates with therapy, while pointing herself towards freedom. Lisa is finally caught and brought back to the Psychiatric Hospital and taken for treatment, while Susanna is preparing for life outside of Claymoore. Before Susanna is finally released, she decides to visit Lisa one last time and sits by her bedside painting her nails. Here, there is an indication that Lisa is going to change after all.

Girl, Interrupted, is a film that really opens a door that allows its audience to explore mental health from a perspective other than our own.  It allows room to actually question mental health, while allowing the audience to really connect with our own state of mind. It is a twisted film that really opens up the door to explore suicide, depression and suicidal tendancies, yet this often allows the film to fall into a morbid melodrama at various points. Although, that is to be expected with a film such as this, that explores mental health conditions. Of course, the film at points is often quite commical, which gives way for the aduience to really connect with the characters, often leaving one to laugh and think: ' that is something I would do'. Overall, the film allows the audience to really engage with the idea that it is fine to feel the way in which you do.

As for casting, Angelina Jolie really throws herself into the character in such a way that it is difficult to disbelieve that she is not that sociopathic young woman. Despite the film being about Susanna (Winona Ryder), the film almost wavers when Jolie isn't on screen. Jolie happened to also have been nominated for The Best Supporting Actress Oscar, for her portrayl of Lisa (and damn right too).

Winona Ryder found her strenght playing Susanna, the soft, depressive young woman, yet, as her character is quite weak minded, so it seems as if her scenes without Jolie, seem to waver. Nevertheless, Ryder's character is extraordinarily believable, even if you do feel the need to slap her character at times and shout "get a grip". Although, that is the issue with mental health. It is frustrating for everyone involved, especially when your own mind is against you - so a round of applause is needed for both Jolie and Ryder for the characters in which they are portraying.

Despite its on-going age, Girl, Interrupted, is an exceptionally gripping, must watch film that, no matter how many times you watch it, will leave you taken aback.