Girl, Interrupted saw Angelina Jolie scoop her very first Oscar (for Best Supporting Actress) back in 2000 thanks to her seductive portrayal of charismatic yet heartless sociopath Lisa Rowe. Directed by James Mangold (Walk The Line, Logan), this searing psychological drama is an engaging yet loose adaptation of Susanna Kaysen’s best-selling 1993 memoir, which documents her intimate struggles as a troubled teenager confined to the volatile hierarchy of psychiatric care during in the 1960s after a botched suicide attempt. The film stars Winona Ryder as promiscuous ‘rebel’ Kaysen (who also served as executive producer) alongside a host of A-listers including Whoopi Goldberg, Brittany Murphy and Jared Leto.
And it’s a film that means an awful lot to me. Its language hit home at a very difficult point in my life. And I need to go personal to explain why.
Depression silently seeps into everyday life with a minimalist trickle, methodically repossessing every discernible source of joy until it sucks your very life-force to a perilous tipping point. This hazy yet crushing realm of emotional torment is devoid of any empathy or self-care. It’s openly barred, the very thought of personally imposed kindness is utterly shameful and unjustified. Any form of social connection gradually dissipates, allowing your mind’s parasitic tendencies to turbo charge into full destructive mode. It’s the ultimate self-sabotaging companion.
During my most isolated, death wishing moments I craved for belonging; I wanted to know that despite the pain that consumed me, I could somehow crawl back from the labyrinth of endless despair to a plane of authentic understanding. Since I had chosen self-imposed seclusion my source of comfort came from movies, privately devouring these respites of assurance. They slowly chipped away at my crippling sense of loneliness and began to gently encourage a sense of community and camaraderie (even if it was only fictional).
Girl, Interrupted was the first film that truly resonated for me on a personal level when it came to dealing with mental health issues. I had several epiphanies throughout Kaysen’s cinematically transcribed memoir, which recounts her turbulent two year stay at a psychiatric hospital in the late 60s. I have never been institutionalised during my near decade battle with anxiety, depression and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. However, the universal servitude of emotional suffering defies any physical location, and is inherently empathetic no matter the narrative.
It was one line that really, really got me. “I know what it’s like to want to die. How it hurts to smile. How you try to fit in but you can’t. You hurt yourself on the outside to try to kill the thing on the inside.”
Time almost seemed to stop when I initially heard these words; the profundity of this statement sent a wave of solidarity to every atom in my body. The very feelings I couldn’t intelligibly define or rationally connect with had been penned well over 40 years prior, it was a life changing moment that hammered home the significance of brutal candidness when tackling mental illness.
Girl, Interrupted confronts a diverse range of diagnoses that array from Borderline Personality Disorder through to OCD and schizophrenia. Despite the varying symptoms and medications the uniting theme of pain is agonisingly evident between the co-habiting patients. In the face of chaos and turmoil humour is still found even in the bleakest hour. On a trip to the local ice-cream parlour Susanna (Ryder) retorts “You know, taking us for ice creams in a blizzard, makes you wonder who the real whack jobs are.” This vital flash of normalcy is paramount to recovery, slowly facilitating an emotionally stable reality in which to build upon healthy coping techniques.
The rawness of dialogue in Girl, Interrupted is alarmingly harrowing at times, too. “When you don’t want to feel, death can seem like a dream. But seeing death, really seeing it, makes dreaming about it fucking ridiculous”, for instance. However, it is key in breaking down stigma both personally and publically. It signals that there should be no shame in reaching the seemingly inescapable boggy marshes of rock bottom. Watching others in similar predicaments to myself was wholly alien at first, but rapidly became of fuzzy safety blanket of timid acceptance. It felt as though someone had peered into my broken soul and replaced the puzzle pieces into a somewhat legible pattern.
“Crazy isn’t being broken, or swallowing a dark secret. It’s you, or me, amplified” eulogies Susanna during the final stages of treatment, and it suddenly struck me that my illness was a crosswire of biology and wasn’t my fault as I so vehemently believed. This dawning revelation started a slow but sure filtering of emotive openness I that had fervently repressed before, too proud and scared to bare the true extent of my distress.
Girl, Interrupted maybe a Hollywoodized ideal of psychiatric care with several glaring flaws, but I’ll be forever be grateful for its mainstream accessibility which enabled me to begin fighting against the oppressive storm of my own mental health.