Girl, Interrupted (1999)

Director: James Mangold

Length: 2hr 7min

Genre: Drama

Available on Amazon Prime & YouTube

Back in the not-so-halcyon-but-also-more-precedented days of the early 2000s, my friend and I repeat watched Girl, Interrupted for, I want to say 3 months straight. It quickly became my favorite movie, just above American Beauty (1999) but just below Rent (2005). However, this was before; before my diagnosis, before my treatment, and before my recovery journey had ever started. Though I would like to say I didn’t get “worse” until later, I can’t help but think of my undiagnosed self and her early preconceived notions on mental health being formed from this film. so I thought I would explore that.

Debunking Hollywood Misconceptions About Mental Health

  • intakes don’t write down your information ahead of time, they are self-reporting
  • there is sign off for a medication with an explanation as to the medication and its effects before you ever get the medication
  • you can request access to your medical file, including therapy notes
  • escaping from a mental institution or being able to roam freely about the premises is extremely difficult.

Things about mental health treatment you should know:

Set in the 1960s, not everything was the same as now. In fact even in 1999, when this film was shot things weren’t the same. Healthcare and mental healthcare are always evolving. That being said, If you live in the United States it depends on your state and the facility itself makes for your overall care, but here are some things that don’t happen anymore. According to my own personal experience in a mental hospital in California during the 2010s, these are the real facts.

  • men and women are not separated by gender
  • there is a common room for people to socialize, usually with a TV
  • they tell you what medications you are taking and what they are for
  • mental hospitals now have emergency psychiatric rooms to treat people who are in immediate crisis
  • they avoid and discourage the use of the word “crazy” or “insane”
  • no smoking inside hospitals
  • you cannot have sex with anyone working or residing in the hospitals
  • you don’t leave the hospital grounds at any time
  • they tell you about your diagnosis and whatever disorder you have
  • they don’t allow you to have pets
  • they don’t do electroshock as an option unless you sign off on it.

My Thoughts

To be honest I haven’t thought of this movie in years and now after revisiting it, I can see a few things in ways that I haven’t before. Suzanna’s behavior was extremely selfish and her toxic relationship with Angelina Jolie’s character, Lisa was obviously played up for dramatic effect. she knew from the beginning that was a violent and unpredictable person who flaunted the rules and wasn’t willing to recover. and like a moth to a flame she rushed towards her.

I think the sexual undertones in their relationship should be discussed, the closest thing to a long-term relationship Suzanna has in the movie is Lisa, and their relationship was emotionally abusive. Lisa was manipulative, verbally aggressive, and ultimately life-threatening towards Suzanna and herself. Though they play their separation as a negative within the story, Dr. Wick was actually helping Suzanna.

By the way, let’s all praise Dr. Wick as one of the unsung heroes of this movie. Honestly, her life story would be very interesting; a woman, most likely unmarried, who got a quality education in what one would assume is the late ’40s to early ’50s, in psychology no less, and practices psychotherapy in the ’60s. She was essentially the 1960s version of a unicorn, I’ll let that marinate for a moment.

Rating: 2 stars

The acting was impressive and Jolie was amazing in her portrayal of Lisa, but let’s be honest movies like this shouldn’t exist. They make people in a mental ward seem like caricatures, then turn around by the end and make amends by writing them off as just like everyone else. All the while, Suzanna is portrayed as virtuous because she is not “crazy,” –a term they have used so many times in this movie that it has lost all meaning– then juxtaposing her with Lisa who they portray as erratic and unstable. They show Lisa as a failure to the system and Suzanna as the hero. I can’t speak for the book because I haven’t read it, however, the maligning of people simply because they need help and aren’t receiving it, doesn’t make them a failure.

If you liked this movie, I recommend:

  1. Cut by Patricia McCormick, Book
  2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Book
  3. Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn, Book
  4. A Beautiful Mind (2001), Film
  5. Patch Adams (1998), Film

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