Mental Illness In Hollywood: Girl, Interrupted

Girl, Interrupted is a film made in 1999 based off of the book of the same name. It follows Susanna Kaysen through her stay at Claymore Psychiatric Institute after she tries to commit suicide. The movie shows a variety of mental disorders and how they affect the people that suffer from them. Some of the key illnesses in the movie are Borderline Personality Disorder and Sociopathy. Though in some ways, many could argue how they are portrayed is not how it is in real life.

Girl, Interrupted is a movie featuring Winona Ryder as the main character, and the story is told from her perspective. The movie starts with Susanna talking to her psychiatrist about how she chased a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of vodka because she had a headache. Shortly after that she is seen checking in to Claymore Psychiatric Hospital where she meets her roommate Georgina Tuskin, a young girl who is a pathological liar. Soon, she is rudely met by Lisa Rowe, who the police bring in. Lisa quickly realizes that her friend Jamie is not in the room that Susanna is staying in then breaks into Susanna’s room, blocking the door so the nurses cannot come in. Lisa gets in Susanna’s face and starts screaming at her, wondering where Jamie is. The nurses finally break in and sedate Lisa. This is Susanna’s first dose of reality of where she is, and who she is now living with.

Shortly after this incident, it is revealed that Lisa is a diagnosed Sociopath, also known as Antisocial Personality Disorder. Sociopathy is defined as a personality disorder characterized by a long-term pattern of disregard for, or violation of, the rights of others. In other words, Lisa Rowe does not care about anyone’s well-being. She is also very aggressive and impulsive. Lisa is known to constantly escape Claymore, just to return shortly after. She is also very charismatic and manipulative and convinces Susanna to resist therapy and to not take her medication.

There is a scene in the movie that captures Lisa’s sociopathy very clearly. Lisa convinces Susanna to escape Claymore with her and go to Daisy’s apartment, a fellow resident of Claymore that was recently released, to get money for their escape to Florida. When they get to her apartment Lisa quickly loses her temper with Daisy. She verbally attacks Daisy, accusing her of having an incestuous relationship with her father and liking it. That is why she is okay with living off of her father’s money because he brings her Valium and bought her apartment for her. Lisa knows how to push Daisy’s buttons and knows that bringing up her father and their “relationship” will push her over the edge. After the altercation, Daisy tells them to make sure they are gone in the morning. When Susanna wakes up in the morning, she can hear the song “End of the World” playing on repeat in Daisy’s room. Lisa tells her that she has not seen Daisy all morning, so Susanna goes upstairs to check on her. When she gets to her room, she finds that Daisy has hung herself and slit her wrists. Lisa then begins to search the apartment and even Daisy’s body for any cash that she can find, all while Susanna is calling for an ambulance. Lisa leaves the house shortly before the ambulance shows up without Susanna.

In another scene toward the end of the movie, Lisa sees that Susanna has changed and is actively responding to the therapy, consistently taking her medication, and helping herself. She is also about to be released. Lisa saw this as her losing her position of power. She saw Susanna getting better, as did everyone else, and that gave the others hope. Lisa then lashes out at Susanna by stealing her diary and reading it out loud to the other residents. Susanna’s personal feelings are aired out to the other residents who then being to resent her for how she “feels” about them. Lisa then verbally attacks her, pressing every button she has and even using her diary against her to ruin any progress she has made. Lisa even accuses Susanna of making her out to be the villain because it makes Lisa the good guy. As Susanna tries to run away and escape Lisa’s verbal abuse, Lisa follows her and tries to trigger another nervous breakdown by continuously yelling at her for all of her “wrongs”. Susanna finally stops Lisa by yelling back that no one cares to push her buttons because she is dead and cold inside. Lisa then tries to kill herself but it talked out of it by Susanna and the other residents that followed them.

After a couple of days at Claymore, Susanna is diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Susanna initially does not agree with the diagnosis, and does not understand why she has BPD. BPD, also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder, is defined as a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by unstable relationships with others, unstable sense of self, and unstable emotions. This is shown throughout Susanna’s flashback in the movie. At one point she was sexually involved with her English teacher. She is also seen multiple times throughout the movie being just as impulsive as Lisa.

In one scene of the movie Susanna’s mood completely shifts and she loses all hope of getting better. She starts to resist her therapy, has a standoffish mood toward most people and things, she makes racist remarks toward the nurse that is trying to help her, and just generally does not care about getting better. It is a dramatic shift from her previously caring about getting better and leaving Claymore. It can been seen when her then-boyfriend, Toby, tries to get her to come with him to Canada, not believing she is “crazy”. She tries to tell Toby she tried to kill herself, and he tries to play it as her just having a headache, she even tries to tell him she took the whole bottle, yet he still dismisses that she needs to be in Claymore. Susanna recognizes that she needs to get better, yet drastically changes her mind.

This movie is an eye opener for mental illness, especially because it mainly takes place in a mental hospital. The movie shows more than just BPD and Sociopathy. It touches on depression, schizophrenia, pathological liars, and anorexia. It shows how it affects people in their day to day lives, and how bad it got for some people to have to be initialized. It was the first look I had into someone’s life who was living with BPD. I now understand how getting better can be really hard for some people because they like being “crazy”.

I would recommend this movie to anyone that love Winona Ryder or Angelina Jolie. Not only will they see their favorite actresses, but they would also get a glimpse of some of the in-depth struggles of Borderline Personality Disorder and Sociopathy. I feel like this movie should also be shown in health class because it not only shows the illnesses, but it also shows the struggles of getting help and getting better, and how there are ups and downs to doing so.

16 December 2021
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