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Film / Girl, Interrupted

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Dr. Crumble: Susanna, four days ago you chased a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of vodka.
Susanna: I had a headache.

Girl, Interrupted is a 1999 American psychological drama film directed by James Mangold, starring Winona Ryder and an ensemble supporting cast including Angelina Jolie, Clea DuVall, Brittany Murphy, Elisabeth Moss, Jared Leto, Jeffrey Tambor, Travis Fine, Angela Bettis, Jillian Armenante, Whoopi Goldberg, and Vanessa Redgrave. The film is based on based on writer Susanna Kaysen's memoir of the same name chronicling her stay in a mental institution in the late 1960s.

Shortly after her high school graduation and a subsequent (probable) suicide attempt, the upper-middle-class 18-year-old Susanna Kaysen (Ryder) is admitted against her wishes to the Claymoore Psychiatric Hospital. There, she meets and in some cases befriends a group of other young female patients: Georgina (DuVall), a compulsive liar; Polly (Moss), a saccharine but disturbed burn victim; Janet (Bettis), an anorexic; Cynthia (Armenante), a butch lesbian — homosexuality still being regarded as a mental disorder at the time; Daisy (Murphy), who's hostile and dealing with an eating disturbance of her own; and Lisa (Jolie), the rebellious and sociopathic but charismatic ringleader of the bunch, who Susanna takes a special liking to.

Susanna is eventually swept up into the group's revolt against the oppression of institutionalized life, sneaking into unauthorized areas late at night and continuously provoking the hospital staff. Along the way, she is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, but struggles with the validity of the diagnosis and the wider validity of her even being admitted in the first place. As her relationships with her fellow patients grow in complexity and intensity, Susanna discovers how hard it is to get out once she has been committed, and ultimately has to choose between the world of people who belong inside or the difficult world of reality outside.

Jolie won quite a few awards for her supporting role, among them an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

Tropes evident in Girl, Interrupted include:

  • Adaptation Distillation: At one point, when enraged by Suzanne, Georgina screams that her dad is the head of the CIA and that he could have her killed in minutes. In the novel, this is actually not referenced by Georgina, but her boyfriend Wade's go-to story to impress people is how his dad was a big-time CIA agent involved in Watergate.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Only to a slight degree, as most of Lisa's characterization is still intact, but in the book, Susanna notes that Lisa didn't like to sleep, but she was still more restful at night and even sat out with the night staff, painting her nails and making hot cocoa for the nurses. Also, Lisa had nothing to do with Daisy's suicide in the book.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: In the movie, Cynthia is committed to Claymoore for being gay. This is changed from the book, where she has bipolar disorder.
  • Age-Gap Romance: It's not precisely a romance, but Susanna sleeps with a college professor twice her age.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Susanna and Lisa, who are fixated towards one another from the start, and despite some male admirers, share a kiss while high on drugs at one point.
  • Based on a True Story: The film is based on the memoirs of Susanna Kaysen. It's not the most faithful adaptation in the world, but it's still recognizable.
  • Berserk Button: Daisy does not like people barging into her room.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Susanna gives Lisa one during her "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Daisy. Lisa ignores it.
    Susanna: SHUT THE FUCK UP!
  • Black-and-White Insanity: Susanna's diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.
  • Blatant Lies: Given that Georgina's a pathological liar, it's natural that she lets slip a few of these. Also counts as a bit of a Brick Joke, as she states this fact about her when Susanna meets her, but her outrageous lies aren't shown until the end.
    Georgina: My dad is the head of the CIA and he could have you dead in minutes!
  • Boyish Short Hair: Susanna, who sports a very short boyish styled haircut throughout the film.
  • Break Them by Talking: Lisa's speech to Daisy, which proves to be the latter's breaking point.
  • Broken Bird:
    • Despite her haughty attitude, Daisy is this. And it doesn't take much for Lisa to push her over the edge.
    • All of the patients count, as they're young and mentally ill. Most of them have some kind of Freudian Excuse, but Word of God on the commentary points out that in many films, the Troubled, but Cute protagonist spits out a secret in the third act. Susanna, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have a reason for her problems. She's depressed, but there's no real "breaking point" for her.
      Susanna: What if you don't have a secret?
      Lisa: Then you're a lifer, like me.
  • Broken Record: "Don't they know it's the end of the world..."
  • Brutal Honesty: Lisa, all the time.
    Lisa: (to Daisy) Everybody knows. Everybody knows, that he fucks you. What they don't know is that you like it.
  • The Bully: Lisa, mainly to Daisy, but she also makes Polly cry at one point for eavesdropping on Susanna when she's with her boyfriend and, when in solitary confinement, she gives M.G a Hannibal Lecture.
  • Butch Lesbian: Cynthia. Creates a bit of Values Dissonance, because at the time homosexuality was considered a mental illness.
    Cynthia: I'm a sociopath.
    Lisa: No, you're a dyke.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
    • Lisa seems unable to open her mouth without dropping at least one F-bomb.
    • Daisy is quite foul-mouthed, especially towards Lisa.
  • Composite Character: Susanna's ex Johnny (whom Toby was based on) never visited her in the memoir, and no mention of Vietnam is ever made - instead, she is visited by her current boyfriend, Nobel-winning geneticist James Watson, who wanted to take her away to England and get her a job as a private tutor.
  • Covered with Scars: Polly, due to the fact that she set herself on fire.
  • Crashing Dreams: The "checks" that interrupt Susanna's flashback daydreams early in the film.
  • Cute Kitten: Ruby, Daisy's cat, who's later adopted by Susanna and later by Polly.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Susanna definitely has her moments.
    Dr. Potts: You've been feeling bad in general. You've been feeling depressed?
    Susanna: Well, I haven't exactly been a ball of joy, Melvin.
    • Janet: When they built this place they put the tunnels in so the loons didn't have to go anywhere in the cold.
      Susanna: I must've missed that in the brochure.
    Lisa: Taking us for ice creams in a blizzard...makes you wonder who the real whackjobs are.
    • Valerie definitely has some snark in her:
      Susanna: Has anyone ever watched you shave your legs?
      Valerie: I got two kids and one bathroom; what do you think?
      Susanna: I think you should lock the door.
  • Does Not Like Spam: Daisy refuses to eat any other food, other than the chicken her father makes her to eat.
  • Double Standard: Not the film, but the morality of the time. Susanna's promiscuity is considered pathological and she asks if the reaction would have been the same had she been male.
  • Draft Dodging: After being drafted, Susanna's boyfriend, Toby, tries to get her to run away with him to Canada.
  • Driven to Suicide: Susanna attempting it (despite her denying claims) is what got her committed to the institution. A former patient called Jamie (and former resident of Susanna's room) hanged herself, as does Daisy later in the film.
  • Ending by Ascending: The last time we see Daisy, she's heading up the stairs into a bright white light.
  • Erotic Eating: The "nuts" scene in the ice cream parlor.
  • Fingore: Susanna accidentally slams her fingers in a heavy sliding door towards the end of the film.
  • Flashback: Susanna has several, with some depicting the events that drove her to overdose on aspirin, and others introducing characters that show up later.
  • Foil: As confirmed in the director's commentary, Lisa is one to Polly.
  • Freak Out:
    • Polly, usually the epitome of cheer, completely loses it one night, throwing things around and screaming "I'm ugly!" repeatedly. In the novel, she screams "My face!" over and over again. MG has one, as well, and gets carted away in a straitjacket.
    • Janet (the anorexic girl, played by Angela Bettis) has one after Daisy gets released from the asylum.
  • Get Out!: Daisy screams this to Susanna and Lisa when they enter her room uninvited and screams for the nurses when they won't leave her room.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: The weather is overcast, rainy and dreary as Susanna is driven back to Claymoore by Dr. Potts following Daisy's suicide.
  • Hannibal Lecture: After Lisa is locked in solitary confinement, she says something (that the audience never hears) that results in M.G. being taken away in a straitjacket.
  • Heroic BSoD: Susanna has a big one following Daisy's suicide, and it's what allows her to finally realise she needs to get out of Claymoore.
  • Hollywood New England: Claymoore is in suburban Boston.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Averted. Susanna and Lisa's rendition of "Downtown" is realistically off-key, and is one of the film's more heartwarming moments.
  • A House Divided: Susanna's confrontation with Lisa drives them apart from one another after Daisy's suicide. Later, Lisa steals Susanna's journal and reads it aloud, turning Georgina and Polly against Susanna in the tunnels underneath the hospital.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens with the aftermath of Susanna's confrontation with Lisa, Georgina and Polly, with most of the rest of the film leading up to that point.
  • Howl of Sorrow: Lisa, during her breakdown.
  • Incest Subtext: During visitation, Daisy and her father hug a little longer than one would consider normal and they break off the hug awkwardly when the nurse walks around the corner. Later, Lisa confirms these incest allegations between Daisy and her father to be true.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • Lisa always pronounces "therapist" as "ther-rapist", "therapy" as "ther-rape-me" and "diagnosis" as "diag-nonsense".
    • Daisy twice accidentally refers to her eat-in kitchen as "eat-in chicken", illustrating her unusual eating disorder.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Susanna and Toby, who start kissing in her room and almost have oral sex before being walked in on by the nurses checking on the patients.
  • Jerkass:
    • To call Lisa unpleasant and rude would be an understatement, though she does have her Pet the Dog moments.
    • Barbara Gilcrest in her brief exchange with Susanna.
  • Kirk Summation: Susanna gives one to Lisa that doubles as a "The Reason You Suck" Speech near the end of the film.
    Lisa: You know, there's too many buttons in the world. There's too many buttons and they're just - there's way too many just begging to be pressed, they're just begging to be pressed, you know? They're just - they're just begging to be pressed, and it makes me wonder, it really makes me fucking wonder, why doesn't anyone ever press mine? Why am I so neglected? Why doesn't anyone reach in and rip out the truth and tell me that I'm a fucking whore, or that my parents wish I were dead?
    Susanna: Because you're dead already, Lisa! No one cares if you die, Lisa, because you're dead already. Your heart is cold. That's why you keep coming back here. You're not free. You need this place. You need it to feel alive. It's pathetic.
  • Lack of Empathy: Lisa, as befitting a sociopath. The crowning example would probably be how she reacts to seeing Daisy's body (dead from a suicide that she definitely spurred on to begin with). While Susanna sobs in horror, she simply scoffs "What an idiot," and rummages through Daisy's pockets for money.
  • Lady Swears-a-Lot: Whenever Lisa starts talking, she will drop f-bombs like there's no tomorrow.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Claymoore Hospital for McLean Hospital. Doesn't apply in the book, given that it's a memoir and all.
  • Leave the Camera Running: Several scenes contain very long Steadicam shots. The longest of which is the entire scene in which Susanna and Lisa talk to each other through a tiny window - the shot goes on for over a minute.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: It's implied that Jamie was one for Lisa- Lisa is furious when she sees Susanna in Jamie's room, which is especially notable considering Lisa's Lack of Empathy.
  • Mood-Swinger: Lisa. Her opening scene best illustrates this trait - she goes from cheerful and cocky upon returning to Claymoore, to a frightening rage when she discovers that Susanna is Georgina's new roommate.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: We're not sure if Claymoore (which sounds like "claymore") is named for the landmine, the battleship, or the big Scottish sword, but the implications are dangerous.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: It's a heartwarming feel-good story. Honest. In addition, there is a great exchange in the trailer that never made it into the finished film:
    Dr. Wick: Is there something about sex which lifts your feelings of despair?
    Susanna: Have you ever had sex?
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: M.G., short for "Martian's Girlfriend".
  • Parental Incest: Daisy and her father. Though he sexually abuses her, it's implied through Daisy's part that it's consensual. Daisy is an adult and seems to be a willing participant, but her disability and financial dependence on him, as well as the possibility that she was groomed from a young age, make it doubtful whether she is capable of consenting in that situation.
  • Parental Issues: Towards the end, Lisa, while ranting, claims that her own parents wish she was dead, presumably because of her illness.
  • The Pollyanna: Polly's almost always cheerful and friendly in spite of her situation.
  • The Problem with Pen Island: Lisa's "ther-rapist"; see Insistent Terminology above.
  • Race Lift: Valerie, who's white in the book, is played by Whoopi Goldberg.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Lisa to Daisy (which is what finally tips Daisy over the edge).
    Lisa: They didn't release you 'cause you're better, Daisy, they just gave up. You call this a life, hmm? Taking Daddy's money, buying your dollies and your knickknacks. And eating his fuckin' chicken, fattening up like a prize fuckin' heifer. You changed the scenery, but not the fuckin' situation, and the warden makes housecalls. And everybody knows, everybody knows that he fucks you. What they don't know is that you like it, hmm? You like it. You like being Mrs. Randone. Probably all you've ever known.
    • And later Susanna to Lisa.
    Susanna: Because you're dead already, Lisa! No one cares if you die, Lisa, because you're dead already. Your heart is cold. That's why you keep coming back here. You're not free. You need this place to feel alive. It's pathetic.
    • Even earlier, Valerie gives one to Susanna after the latter refuses to leave her bed and starts acting increasingly like Lisa. Susanna gives her one back, however.
    • Valerie also gives Susanna one when she starts complaining about conditions at Claymore, pointing out that many institutions of the day were much worse.
  • Reasonable Authority Figures: The staff at the hospital, particularly when you compare them to other mental hospitals of the period. Despite some Fair for Its Day prejudices, they want to help their patients get well. Unfortunately, many times they don't succeed despite their best efforts.
  • Replacement Goldfish: It's implied that Lisa sees Susanna as one for Jamie, as she calls Susanna by the wrong name when dragging her out of Claymoore.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Since Georgina is a pathological liar, it's not clear if the story she tells Susanna on Polly's burn scars is the real version or not. Particularly when Polly seems to have no allergies to the cat.
  • Robbing the Dead: Lisa does this to Daisy's corpse.
  • Rule of Three: Put to use a few times.
    • Susanna hurts her hand three times: the first when she bangs her wrist and thinks the bones are gone, the second when she slices her palm on the fence during Toby's visit, and the third when her hand is smashed in the heavy door in the basement.
    • Susanna talks about taking a bottle of aspirin: the first time with her father's friend (Kurtwood Smith), the second time with Melvin, and the third time with Toby.
    • She denies trying to commit suicide the first two times, then admits she was trying to kill herself.
    • Lisa is put in solitary first when she arrives on Susanna's first day, second after they stay up singing to Polly (and Lisa and Susanna run away), and the third time after she's brought back all strung out and twitchy.
  • Self-Harm: Susanna repeatedly bangs her inner wrist until it bruises in the novel (which is also implied at the beginning of the film), and Daisy cuts her arms in the film. In addition, a deleted scene shows that Lisa uses lit cigarettes to burn the image of a cat onto her arm - this is the reason she's always seen wearing a band over her forearm. It's also alluded to even further in the finished film when Daisy snaps "Look at your own arm, asshole!".
  • Shout-Out: Several, to The Wizard of Oz. According to the commentary, the director wanted to avoid the inevitable comparisons to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and used the Oz books and film as beats in the film.
  • The Shrink: Several varieties, given that it takes place in a mental institution. The two most notable ones are Dr. Potts and Dr. Wick.
  • The Sociopath: Lisa, literally, having been diagnosed as such.
  • Spoiled Brat: Daisy's a darker example than most as her father, who spoils her so much, is also sexually abusing her. It's this that drives Daisy to self-harm and, eventually, suicide.
  • Stalker with a Crush: M.G, who holds a torch towards Lisa. As depicted early in the film when Lisa is being restrained and taken to solitary confinement and M.G sees this going on and tries to protect her, only to be held back by a nurse.
  • Stealth Pun: The film version of Daisy self-harms, in a Period Piece that takes place at the time of The Vietnam War, no less.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: The next morning after spending the night at Daisy's house, Susanna can't help noticing that Daisy hasn't come out of her room yet and that the same sad song keeps playing over and over on repeat. Specifically, "The End Of The World" by Skeeter Davis.
  • Tempting Fate: Susanna asks if she can go home by Thanksgiving, and points out that she's improved quite a bit and that nothing's happened for weeks. And then Lisa's back.
  • Title Drop: In Susanna's opening narrative, right before the film cuts to a flashback of her failed suicide attempt and having her stomach pumped by the hospital.
    Lisa: (narrating) Have you ever confused a dream with life? Or stolen something when you have the cash? Have you ever been blue? Or thought your train was moving while sitting still? Maybe I was just crazy. Maybe it was the '60s. Or maybe I was just a girl... interrupted.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Lisa's villainous breakdown after Susanna recovers and is on track to be discharged from the asylum soon.
    Susanna: What the fuck are you doing, Lisa!?
    Lisa: (aims a light at her) I'm playing the villain, baby, just like you want. I try to give you everything you want.
  • Villainous Breakdown: After returning to Claymoore and learning of Susanna's progress, Lisa steals her diary, reads it out loud, turns the inmates against Susanna and begins to chase Susanna down the corridors and goes on a rant on everything she gave Susanna just before her breaking point.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Happens during a flashback showing Susanna having her stomach pumped.
  • Wham Line:
    Daisy: My father loves me.
    Lisa: I bet. With every inch of his manhood.
    • Later, during the same scene:
      Lisa: And everybody knows. Everybody knows that he fucks you. What they don't know... is that you like it.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: M.G. is last seen being taken away in a straitjacket due to a psychotic breakdown, and isn't present when Susanna is saying goodbye to the other patients at the end. It's fair to assume she goes to another ward, as does John the Orderly.
  • Whoopi Epiphany Speech : Valerie, to Susanna.
    Valerie: You are a lazy, self-indulgent little girl who is driving herself crazy.
  • Wrong-Name Outburst: When trying to break out of Claymoore, Lisa calls Susanna "Jamie." Susanna herself is visibly shaken by this.

Alternative Title(s): Girl Interrupted