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Susanna Kaysen's memoir Girl,
in Metapsychology December 1999) has received wide critical acclaim,
and the movie adaptation of the book by James Mangold starring Winona Ryder,
Angelina Jolie, Whoopi Goldberg and Vanessa Redgrave was also a box-office
success. The DVD supplies an excellent commentary by Mangold along with some
interesting deleted scenes and an HBO First Look! show on the making of the
movie. As a movie, Girl, Interrupted is a compelling story with a more
dramatic plot than Kaysen's meandering memoir. Ryder is strikingly beautiful
and fragile in her performance as Kaysen, her wide and dark eyes making her
resemble a wounded faun, and she is perfect in this role.
I am not normally a big fan
director's commentaries, and I rapidly tire of hearing them go on at length
about how great their work is. However, Mangold (director of Heavy, Copland,
and more recently, Identity) keeps his self-congratulation to a minimum
and focuses on the challenges facing him in constructing the film and the works
that influenced him. Indeed, he works hard at explaining his directorial
choices. For example, the film was shot mostly at Harrisberg State Hospital in
Pennsylvania and Mangold talks about how the space was so important to him.
He used a great deal of natural light in an effort to keep the atmosphere
appropriate to the 1960s. He also talks about the importance of The Wizard
of Oz as an influence on conception of this film, and specifically the way
that the entrance of the Angelina Jolie character was directly based on the
entrance of the Wicked Witch of the East. He mentions Slaughterhouse 5
and Black Narcissus as other reference points in the making of this
film, which may inspire the viewer to go out and rent those other films to see
the comparisons for themselves.
One comparison that Mangold is
reluctant to accept is that with Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's
in Metapsychology August 2003). Both are set in mental
institutions, although Forman's is in the 1950s, while Kaysen's hospitalization
was in the late 1960s. The parallel between the two is somewhat obvious,
however. Both feature strong characters (Jolie's Lisa and Jack Nicholson's R.
P. McMurphy) whose rebelliousness destines them for a hopeless fight against a
more powerful system. Both question the way that our society controls deviance
through labeling people as mentally ill. Indeed, both include scenes where the
inmates are able to use the power of their labels to scare or intimidate other
supposedly "normal" people, often with a great deal of humor. Yet Mangold
insists that his work is much more than a Cuckoo's Nest with women, and
he has a fair point. He explains at the end of the film that he created the
scene in which Susanna stands up to Lisa precisely to avoid simply making a
"chick-flick," instead making a far more dramatic climax to the
story. Kaysen's memoir has strong feminist leanings, and Mangold retains the
suggestion that Susanna's diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder is rooted
in confining female stereotypes, and that if she had been a boy, she would
never have been hospitalized.
Girl, Interrupted stands up
well to repeated viewing, and this DVD helps to illuminate the creation of the
film. Recommended especially for those who prone to analyzing the depiction of
mental illness, but also for anyone who enjoys a well-constructed story.
© 2003 Christian Perring. All
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.