24 December 2012

James Mangold's Girl, Interrupted (1999)

Girl, Interrupted is largely set in a psychiatric hospital, which automatically makes the viewer think of comparisons with other movies set in such institutions, such as Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor (1963), where a man posing as mad in the end becomes mad; Ken Loach's Family Life (1971), which is a fierce Laingian criticism of conventional psychiatry; Miloš Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), based on Ken Kesey's countercultural 1962 novel of the same name, which is by extension a savage indictment of many aspects of society in general; and the central section of Jane Campion's An Angel at My Table (1990), which is based on Janet Frame's 1984 book of the same name.
The movie Girl, Interrupted is based on Susanna Kaysen's (rather less linear) book of the same name which was published in 1993, and is an autobiographical account of Kaysen's experiences in McLean Hospital, Belmont, Boston, Massachusetts, in 1967 at the age of eighteen. She followed a number of other very notable writers who had been there as patients, such as Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton.
Kaysen was diagnosed as having borderline behavioral disorder, and the film charts the progress of her character (played by Winona Ryder) from ODing on aspirins, to being admitted to the fictional Claymoore Hospital, through befriending inmates with illnesses of very various seriousness and undergoing different traumas with them, to emerging more healthy and ready to face both the world and herself.
Unlike some movies mentioned above (notably Family Life and Cuckoo's Nest), this film is not as much a criticism of the psychiatric profession as a kind of mental coming of age, but it is nevertheless intensely powerful and relevant.

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