When I saw that Maeve had a movie review of Girl, Interrupted on her blog, I couldn’t resist picking it as a feature of this year’s first edition of Maeve’s Monthly Movie Review. I watched this movie a couple of times over the years and was always left with so many questions about the meaning of reality (which, as those of you who have read my reviews of Fringe already know, is definitely part of the top 25 topics I like thinking about.) I felt like I got so many of the points raised by Maeve that I hope we get the opportunity to watch the movie together someday–although that day would probably turn into 2-3 days of discussions, so perhaps for both of our sakes, it’s better we don’t live in the same city…
Girl, Interrupted — Reality, Insanity, and The Prison of Self
Film: Girl, Interrupted 1999
Starring Winona Rider, Angelina Jolie, Clea DuVall, Brittany Murphy, Jared Leto, Vanessa Redgrave, and Whoopi Goldberg.
Synopsis (from IMDB):
Susanna is rushed to the hospital. Afterwards she discusses this with a psychiatrist. She had been having some delusions. She had also been having an affair with the husband of her parents’ friend. The doctor suggests that combining a bottle of aspirin and a bottle of vodka was a suicide attempt. This she denies. He recommends a short period of rest at Claymoore. Claymoore is a private mental hospital full of noisy, crazy people. Georgina is a pathological liar. Polly has been badly scarred by fire. Daisy won’t eat in the presence of other people. Lisa is a sociopath, the biggest exasperation for the staff – like Nurse Valerie – and the biggest influence on the other girls in the hospital. Lisa has a history of escapes, so gaining access to personal medical files is not a problem… Susanna’s boyfriend Toby is concerned that she seems too comfortable living with her institutionalized friends… Written by David Woodfield
There is so much I could potentially write about this film, a film that tackles the nature of reality, of what is insanity, and of how we perceive difference, so I am going to scale back a bit and focus on two conversations in the film that I thought were particularly interesting and which could lead to fruitful discussion.
The first is a conversation Susanna (the main character, played by Winona Ryder) has with her therapist Dr. Wycke (played by Vanessa Redgrave) about half way through the film. The conversation begins when Susanna, off-handedly says that “ambivalent” is her word of the moment. Dr. Wycke picks up on this and asks her if she knows what it means. Susanna replied “I don’t know” and when Dr. Wycke comments that its odd that she doesn’t know the meaning of her word of the moment, Susanna says that was the definition, clearly confusing ambivalence with apathy. Dr. Wycke corrects her by defining the word. The conversation continues thus:
Dr. Wycke: The word suggests that you are torn between two opposing courses of action…”
Susanna (filling in the blanks): Will I stay or will I go?
Dr. Wycke: Am I sane or am I crazy?
Susanna: Those aren’t courses of action
Dr. Wycke: They can be dear… for some
Here Dr. Wycke points out the importance of action. We can conceive insanity as a state of being, or something someone is, but here Dr. Wycke challenges us to think of it as something someone does. If you are “sane” you act a certain way, you follow society’s norms and morays. If you are “crazy” your actions are different, erratic. Others judge you by your actions. Because in reality, your thoughts could be all over the place. You could think whatever you wanted, the “craziest” thoughts, thoughts inexplicable, indescribable, or even scary but if these thoughts didn’t effect your actions nobody would know. This sentiment is echoed later in the film when Susanna has a conversation with a male friend. He explains that he knew someone who saw purple people and was institutionalized.
Random guy: Time went by and he told them he didn’t see purple people no more.
Susanna: He got better.
Random guy: No, he still sees them.
The “insane” purple people seeing guy learned to not let his thoughts (his view of reality which conflicted with society’s) effect his actions any longer and so the institution deemed him insane. Sanity and insanity, after all, are relative terms. They are dependent on one another for their existence, and throughout the film Susanna struggles with figuring out what insanity is, and if she is insane. This may be why she was classified “borderline”. She was able to choose what actions to take, she was on the border and could choose which path to go down.
And she is not the only one. We are all on the border every day. Maybe not between sanity and insanity, but definitely between right and wrong, between action and inaction. We have to choose to get out of bed, we have to choose to do the right thing, we have to choose to step up.
Read the rest of Maeve’s review here.