‘Girl, Interrupted’, set in the 1960s, traces the story of an 18 year old Susanna who is sent to a mental health institution for treatment, where her experiences eventually compel her to choose between the chaos inside the institution and outside its gates.
Psychological Interpretation. The movie highlights the troubled state of people suffering from a mental illness, through most of its characters. The protagonist, Susanna is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Here are some of the displays of her symptoms. Susanna displays an intense fear of real or imagined abandonment in her relationship with Lisa, despite it being extremely unhealthy for her. Her need to engage in impulsive behaviours that are self damaging is best displayed when she, without any second thoughts, decides to escape the institution with Lisa to go to Florida without any safety nets and also when she engages in sexual behaviour with her high school professor who is also an extremely close family friend. Susanna is shown self-harming during a dissociative episode (where she could not feel her bones and so she cut her wrist to feel something) and in the first scene of the movie, seen admitted to a hospital post a suicide attempt.
At the institution, Susanna interacts with Janet who suffers from Anorexia Nervosa, Restricting Type. She has such significantly low body weight that Valerie, the incharge, had to strip her off her clothes and dress her into a gown, as an attempt to make her eat, which also shows that she has intense fear of gaining weight through eating. She experiences a disturbance in the way she perceives her body weight because she has no recognition of the seriousness of her current low body weight and an inability to hit the perfect weight of 74 kilos takes a toll on her self-evaluation.
Key Takeaways. The movie shows the tremendously difficult journey that one with mental illness undergoes in order to reach recovery. Susanna, who was initially in absolute denial about her condition, has to strip off her ignorance layer by layer after some very painfully confronting conversations with those at the institution. And also, she had to put in extremely consistent efforts in order to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel.
While she saw the light early (in a year), others like Lisa who was diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder, took eight years. Not even her role in triggering Daisy to commit suicide could strip her off of her extreme denial and pride in her illness. Eventually, she had to beg Susanna to press her emotional buttons and make her feel the pain she made others feel, in order to understand the impact of her actions and become better.
And some like Daisy never saw the light.
Also the movie shows the extremely paternalistic nature of the mental health system, in the 1960s – in how the patients not explained the rationale behind taking meds or participating in art therapy or going for therapy or how her psychoanalytic therapist takes control of her story and refuses to even acknowledge her opinion of her own story.
To conclude, I’d like to say that ‘Girl, Interrupted’ like any work of art had its own hits and misses; it’s biggest hit being talking about mental illnesses in females through an entirely female actors led movie, that too released in the 1990s.