Girl, Interrupted

Psychology and the diagnosing of mental illnesses is a fairly modern practice in comparison with other sciences such as Biology and Chemistry. That being said, immense progress has been made in just the past fifty years that has revolutionized how we view personality traits and behavioral mannerisms. In Girl, Interrupted, we are shown the beginning stages of diagnostic mental illness in the famous Claymoore institution.


Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder) is sent to Claymoore, a renowned mental hospital in the mid-1960s. Having just graduated from high school and celebrated with a bottle of aspirin and a bottle of vodka, Susanna is believed to be suicidal and mentally insane. When she arrives at Claymoore she meets fellow patients like Lisa Rowe (Angelina Jolie), doctors like Melvin Potts (Jeffrey Tambor) and her nurses like Valerie Owens (Whoopi Goldberg). During her eighteen-month stay, Susanna learns about herself, other illnesses affecting those around her and the idea of belonging.

The main impact taken from Girl is the discussion on ambivalence. Even now, we are hindered by the constant struggle between what we think of ourselves and what we think we should think of ourselves. Whether by admission or not, there is a level of interest we all have in how we are viewed by the rest of the world. This is Susanna’s biggest obstacle to overcome in her path to health. By today’s standards, Susanna’s “borderline personality disorder” would include a majority of the population, but by the 60s standards and their limited psychiatric knowledge, she is considered mentally insane and incapable of surviving on her own in society.

While Susanna’s story is intriguing, for someone of this day and age it is largely irrelevant because we all will consider her to simply be a depressed teenage girl, and that’s it. Having her institutionalized today for longer than a week would be regarded as extreme and wildly unnecessary. Where the film’s intrigue truly lies is with Lisa’s sociopathic tendencies and the other patients’ maladies.

Lisa is clearly the most mentally unstable person at Claymoore due to her erratic behavior, violent mood swings and general disregard for human emotions. Watching Jolie immerse herself into the wild turmoil and confusion that is the mental state of Lisa Rowe is quite a sight. You can see the fervor in her eyes and notice that she truly reveled in playing this particular role. As the film progresses, we begin to become more interested in Lisa’s background and how she came to be so addicted to manipulation and self-deprecation as her motive for garnering respect and love. We are shown how utterly confused Lisa is with herself, which Jolie takes and puts on the equally confused audience (semi-spoiler: we don’t get many answers about Lisa).

Girl tackles more historically prominent issues as well, such as the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. We are shown the effect Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination has on Valerie – the only African-American character. These moments serve as a reminder of the time period more than an interpretation of their influences over the hospital. The one thing Girl needed more of was Whoopi – the actress, not the favorite Newlywed Game colloquialism. Her (Valerie) race prevented her from being a doctor, but it didn’t stop her from being the most influential staff member at the hospital.

The insight into the psyche of someone being consistently told they are crazy results in a fascinating tale with excellent supporting characters. There are moments of sheer confusion, but that only adds to the belief that we are all crazy in some way. If you have an affinity for discovering new aspects about the human condition, Girl, Interrupted was made for you. For the rest, it is still a highly thought-provoking film.

  1. A large percentage of of the things you point out is astonishingly precise and that makes me wonder the reason why I hadn’t looked at this with this light previously. This particular article really did turn the light on for me personally as far as this specific issue goes. Nevertheless at this time there is one particular factor I am not too comfortable with so whilst I make an effort to reconcile that with the core idea of your position, let me see exactly what all the rest of your subscribers have to say.Nicely done.

  2. Excellent review for an amazing film. 🙂 You’re so right about the time period and about it touching on more than just a girl in a mental institution. Though Susanna maybe didn’t NEED to be there for 18 months, I think it made her a better person for it, because she was able to understand more about others and altered her view of the world. It’s a great book, as well!

    • Thanks! I agree, her length of stay did determine how refined her sense of self-worth and “mental health” improved. Definitely one of those “it’ll all turn out for the best” situations no matter how difficult the process to get there.

      • Exactly! I think she definitely needed a “rest” even if it wouldn’t be legally binding today. Not saying we should all be put in institutions, but I think we should all be so lucky as to establish such clarity in our own lives and learn to accept ourselves. You wrote a great post!

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