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Movie Review

Girl, Interrupted

MPAA Rating: R for strong language and content relating to drugs, sexuality and suicide

Reviewed by: Bob MacLean

Very Offensive
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2 hr. 7 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Winona Ryder in Girl, Interrupted
Featuring: Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Whoopi Goldberg, Clea Duvall, Vanessa Redgrave
Director: James Mangold
Producer: Douglas Wick, Cathy Konrad
Distributor: Columbia Tristar

“Girl, Interrupted” has much to teach about what sin is, and it painfully reminds us how we all participate in it to cause our culture to force young people into and over the brink. Thus, the first truth is that children must be the objects of unconditional love by their parents. If parents are not shooting for this goal, they should be prepared for the worst.

Overall, “Girl, Interrupted” is a disturbing film and not recommended for children, nor for sensitive adolescents because it is quite raw in places. Although I did see some older adolescent girls in the theater, some with their mothers, it was almost heartbreaking to see an audience almost entirely adolescent female as if it were some kind of banal teen movie for every girl to experience. This it is not. Ironically, just before the movie started, one twentyish year-old woman sitting with her girlfriend remarked how her family thought little of her on her visits home and said things to her that made her cry and feel unwanted. If you see this film, you may want to read “Reviving Ophelia” by Mary Pipher. They go well together.

The film’s title is brilliant. The story itself is at least fairly (I read only excerpts) close to Susanna Kaysen’s autobiographical story upon which it is based, Girl, Interrupted, Random House, 1993. In 1967 the author (“Far Afield”, 1990; Asa, As I Knew Him, 1987) admitted herself for the next 18 months of her life to a McLean Psychiatric Hospital near Boston after a single session with an overbearing doctor due to a suicide attempt. In the beginning, the movie uses flashback to take us back and forth between the hospital and her pre-institutional life to help us understand visually what was going on inside her confused, but obviously creative and gifted mind. Susanna’s journey is portrayed clearly and sensitively as she meanders constantly between the temptation to stay disturbed to shut out the pain or work her way out of it, both tasks clearly fraught with undesirable and very painful elements. She learns to make friends, to connect with herself, to want to get well all the while surrounded by a less than healthy environment. In any case, this movie cannot be viewed as entertainment by anyone save the very callused mind.

Scene from Girl, Interrupted There is much offensive material in this film both for the eye and ear. There are sexual scenes, some implied others perilously close to graphic. There are 2 scenes of partial nudity. The curse words abound as you might imagine given the venue of a mental hospital. Having worked with needy people, these words come with the territory so it’s up to you to endure them or not go. Drug use is in-your-face at every turn, both prescribed and illegal. There are graphic verbal sexual descriptions. There is a suicide scene that is arguably in context with the film, but then the camera angle changes and pushes it even further (Hollywood’s trademark). It becomes offensive and unnecessary. I would not take a child under 18 to see this movie as it delves into issues children should not be forced to deal with. Since Susanna is not a Christian, she cannot, and the film does not, offer any real answers to some very important questions. Rather is raises the human spirit up as the answer to our problems. I find this solution curious. If we had such great spirit, why do we repeatedly put ourselves into these terrible situations?

Indeed, in her book she queries the vast amorphous unknown, wondering why one sick person becomes healthier and the one next to oneself does not. She sees no hope beyond herself and the human spirit.

On the positive side, the movie forces one to understand the horror of having to deal with mental illness and does not glamorize being insane. It flirts with the idea that something in us causes tender and sensitive young people to lapse into insanity if the culture does not practice unconditional love. But this is not an actual theme of the movie. It does have a few scenes which underline the goodness that comes with forgiveness. You feel a momentum in the film that roots for the sick to get better in spite of the era it happened in, one of intolerance and stereotypes. It does not rail in hindsight at the role the female was relegated to in the 50’s and 60’s, as if that era should be brought before the Supreme Court for undermining women. Rather it seems to realize each era is burdened with enough guilt that we would all be in jail together if such a cases were brought to justice.

The film making, the editing, the story line and cinematography were generally quite good. The story is compelling as is the book. I’m sure many Christians will find this too generous, but this is the opinion of someone who has worked in the emergency room and the counseling room and seen all kinds of abuse that people heap on their own flesh and blood on a regular basis.

This unusual film (as far as American made films go) had my heart aching because of what we humans to do one another. It re-galvanized me in my quest to do whatever I can to help people one at a time and to use a lot of my free time in doing so in order to spread the knowledge of a God and Savior who love us. If this film does not compel you to ask or perhaps re-ask yourself some very basic questions about how you are fulfilling Christ’s commission not just to evangelize, but to LOVE the world, you need to reevaluate whether you are living a Christ centered life.

I am genuinely torn in giving this movie a Christian rating of 2. God knows and deals with the deepest horrors we visit upon one another and forgives us. We can learn from other’s mistakes. In that sense, I think this movie can be helpful. Conversely, some will find some of the content offensive. This film takes the raw side of life and deals with it. The most offensive part for me was how the parents push their children into insanity and don’t even realize it. I recommend this film to those who have and can deal with lifes underbelly. The decision to see this film is, as always, yours.

Viewer Comments
This movie may or may not be appropriate for a Christian to watch. It contains casual sex, foul language, deviant sexual innuendo, graphic suicide, and multiple psycho-social illnesses. I believe this movie is an accurate portrait of the struggles some endure to overcome the effect of sinful acts committed by and against them. This film helps to understand the hold the enemy has on people. The Christian’s frustration is the real solution to these problem(s) is not presented within the framework of the film. The director would have you believe that the human spirit can prevail. Hope in the human spirit is hope that dissipates. This movie has affirmed my conviction that redemption through Christ IS the solution to even complex psycho-social problems. My Ratings: [1½/2½]
—Mark Dawson, age 50
Accurate in the hospital setting to a “T”. Moderate to good acting and a little Whoopi Goldberg make this movie interesting. Unlike the main reviewer, I might consider taking my daughter to this movie as she got into her late teens. The questions it raises are some that I feel need to be addressed by the mother/parents. Pure movie-wise, the sex scene is very graphic and the situation itslef is one of the most horrendously open to “casual sex” that I’ve seen in quite a while. If you’re young and don’t go into the movie knowing pre-marital sex is wrong then you’re very likely to come out thinking it’s okay. The suicide scene was a waste of the film. But, it is in one aspect positive because it cemented the main characters dielima for us. I’m not sure I’d totally agree that the film offers the human spirit as the answer to life’s problems. I think it was more about following the NT teaching of not being lukewarm in our faith and/or life. Not a must see, but worth the price of admission. My Ratings: [3/3½]
—JK Perry, age 29
As a person suffering with a mental disorder this movie piqued my curiousity and was a “must see” for me. The movie took quite a different angle on persons suffering from mental disorders than films such as “Breaking The Waves” and the Australian made “Angel Baby.” This movie is certainly not entertainment, but is closer to a documentary—after all it is based on the true story of Susanna Kaysen who spends 18 months in the Claymore psychiatric institution. The theme of the movie in my opinion (which I don’t expect to be shared by others) was the corruption, callousness and insensitivity shown by the psychiatric “profession”. Let me state that I emphatically do NOT believe that Susanna was suffering from any mental disorder. I believe that the “diagnosis” of “borderline personality disorder” is (and has always been) a hoax. Just because psychiatrists can identify clusters of behaviours in individuals and give them a label does not give scientific validity to the alleged “mental disorder”.

I don’t even believe Susanna was suffering from depression—as a sufferer of major depression for more than 10 years I am an expert in the signs and symptoms of it. At not one stage in the film does Susanna’s emotional or cognitive responses indicate depressive disorder. To be sure, she is the victim of heartless parents and teachers, and she is going through a troubled and painful “what am I going to do for the rest of my life” stage, but this does not call for her to be labelled as “mentally ill.” Her psychotic episode is a once-off and is no justification whatsoever to be sentenced to Claymore. I use the word “sentenced” because Claymore is more like a prison than a place of rest and rehabilitation. The involuntary holding of Susanna there for 18 months is in gross violation of UN human rights for the mentally ill.

Despite the suffering she endures at the hands of the Claymore staff, Susanna emerges as somewhat of a hero. She seems to leave the institution without any overt bitterness or hatred towards those who imprisoned her; and her compassion to the end for the evil and seductive Lisa is extraordinary. What I hope others will get out of this film is a greater sense of compassion towards we who are mentally ill, after all the mentally ill are the most marginalised and stigmatised group in society. My Ratings: [2½/4]
—Mark, age 29
I really thought this movie was excellent! This movie showed the “realness” of mental illness. I had read the book so I knew there was going to be profanity and some other objectionable parts. I agree that no one under 18 should see this movie, too much reality. As a Christian, this gave me a glimpse at what my life could be like without the knowledge that I am loved by God. For those of you who don’t have first hand experience with mental illness it will be a real awakening. My Ratings: [3/4½]
—Jackie, age 38
Save for the entirely-too-graphic suicide scene, there was little in this movie that you couldn’t take something positive out of. Ultimately the shrink reminds Susanna that her future is made up of her choices… and that is so true. Susanna makes a choice. She finds the strength that she has and makes positive choices, eventually. Don’t we all have to learn from our mistakes, Christian or not? Lisa, the behind-wriggling crude-talking mean-spirited character of whom Susanna is so enamored, is exactly the picture of what happens when you’re so lost and so little and so scared, and you haven’t been loved enough and whatever weaknesses your mind may have had just flourish, and you snap and you turn into a bully, just to make yourself feel better. It’s not to say she could just snap out of it… but it IS to say that some super-good love and compassion would do her a lot of good. Depression is a reality, sex is a reality, drugs are a reality. Fortunately none of it was glamorized; I felt it was portrayed in a manner appropriate for an older child with parental supervision—a kid could really learn a lot from it. What I was more disturbed by was the eight-or-so-year-old sitting behind me with her obviously-under-25-year-old mom. I’d take my thirteen-year-old nephew to see it, but probably not a kid much younger. My Ratings: [3/4]
—Lady Eponine, age 22
Hands down the best picture of the movie season. Wynona Ryder and Anjelie Jole give a riveting performance as does the rest of the cast (which includes Whoopi Goldberg). If I could hand out Oscars this would be my choice. I am someone that has suffered from major depression (although never institutionalized) and I have to tell you it really struck some emotional chords with me. It’s really a story about a young woman discovering herself and some hard truths which lead her to recovery. While she first checks in at the mental wards she compares herself to all the crazies in the room and wonders why she is even there, but as the story progresses she makes some valuable friendships and discovers that she is not unlike them. These characters are very rich and in depth and very very real. In the beginning Susanna is in defiance and in denial and we are in agreement with her stance as we see through her eyes. But the story takes a turn and her heart softens. I like that point that our hard hearts must soften before we can get to the point of true healing.
—Don Lambirth, age 31