Adapted from the unflinching memoir, I will always consider ‘Girl, interrupted’ (1993) to be a real diamond in the rough. It’s a unique cinematic gem which charts an interesting collaboration between filmmaker, James Mangold and author, Susanna Kaysen.
When I set out to write a series which explored some of the most influential female characters in film, Girl, Interrupted was one of my first choices. The incredible casting chartered success for Wynona Ryder, Angelia Jolie and Brittany Murphy. The narrative centres on the candid portrayal of a group of young women who are sanctioned to a psychiatric hospital in the late 1960’s and explores the physical and emotional challenges associated with mental illness. In style, the film is pure, harrowing and at times quite fanciful with intimate and touching depictions of women living as part of an isolated institution.
Winona Ryder & Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted (1999)
As I revisited Girl, Interrupted and reflected on the characters and their representation, I realised I couldn’t consider Sussanna, Lucy or Daisy to be any more inspiring than the other. It was their collective voices and the stories that Sussanna Kaysen personally introduces us to, which makes this film and its female leads so influential.
Drawing on comparisons with the previously discussed, ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ and the films method of presenting proscribed themes with a bold and sometimes, uncomfortable tone, Girl, Interrupted shares a similar capacity when bringing to light a spectrum of dark ideologies. Mental illness is a prominent theme and Mangold is sharp and perceptive, when making the struggles of these women known. As an audience, we’re able to appreciate how Girl Interrupted is effective in providing us with an insight into the lives of those affected by mental illness, but I find it equally as potent in exposing often neglected themes of womanhood. Amongst the quirks and eccentricities of the young ladies, their comrades and carers, there’s an affective undercurrent which handles the human qualities of these young women, removed from their individual diagnosis.
Winona Ryder as Susanna Kaysen in Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Every frame, scene and line works towards the complex goal of exposing the intricacy of each character’s personality and emotional state with complete veracity. It overlooks the blanket of mental illness and probes into the deeper fibre of these characters, their passions, ambitions and flaws with inquest that forces you to feel, at times, a little too invasive. In particular, the ‘Ice Cream Parlour’ scene has always struck a chord with me, it demonstrates that, even though lust, jealousy and revenge are the crux in these women’s character, empathy, loyalty and respect are equally as potent in their constructs as women and their personal contributions to this unorthodox community in which they find themselves.
Between Sussanna Kaysen’s memoir and James Mangolds creative vision, I feel that Girl, Interrupted has been influential in probing the representation of mental illness and womanhood. It’s brutal and endearing all at once and produces a memorable movie filled with heart and sincerity and whilst exploring the lives of these young women, presses the viewer to reflect on their own flaws and fetishes. As Susanna says… ‘Crazy isn't being broken or swallowing a dark secret. It's you or me amplified. If you ever told a lie and enjoyed it. If you ever wished you could be a child forever..’