The movie "Girl Interrupted", is an adaptation of Susanna Kaysen’s autobiographical book of the same name (set in the late 1960s) and is essentially about a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder who is voluntarily institutionalized (signs herself in at the age of 18) after trying to commit suicide. The movie attempts to chronicle Susanna’s (Winona Ryder) experiences in therapy as an in-patient in Claymoore women’s ward.
The movie is interesting, suspenseful and touching in many ways but it fails to accurately portray Borderline Personality Disorder. It hits upon a few borderline characteristics, namely identity confusion, career confusion, impuslivity (sexually) unstable relationships (barely touched upon and not developed in the over-all plot) and suicidality.
The acting is superb. The ensemble cast is believable. But what is lost is Susanna’s turmoil which is overshadowed by the character of Angelina Jolie who plays a sociopath. At times it is hard to tell who the main character really is. Adding to this, much of the antics of the in-patients are just not believable.
Setting up the revelation of Susanna’s BPD diagnosis in the shadows of Lisa’s (Angelina Jolie) sociopathic lack of empathy, emotion or conscience will subtly convey to those paying close attention that borderlines are redeemable and that they are not as far gone as are those who live without conscience.
For those hoping that this movie would truly address Borderline Personality Disorder, as I was, it is a tremendous disappointment. It gets close in a several scenes to an accurate portrayal of BPD but only to fall short time and time again.
The movie does manage to convey the reality that the main character, Susanna does indeed move along in her journey from vulnerable fear to self-awareness. There is a sense of watching someone finding their authentic self and winning the battle against the false-self. Susanna transforms herself from a depressed, angry, and suicidal follower who is essentially lost and without purpose to a vital young woman, who finds some peace, a reason to live and who takes on the ability to lead her own self-directed life. The problem is that the plot is not well-developed enough in its detail and does not clearly take us on the journey that Susanna travels.
One highlight however, is a scene in which a nurse (Whoopi Goldberg) confronts Susanna in a way that is a turning-point for her. Susanna comes to confront a moment of truth and of choice. I thought that the movie portrayed, the reality that each borderline has a choice to make, and that one must CHOOSE to heal, very well.
The movie ends in a very meaningful way both for the character, the viewer and those interested in the borderline aspects of it. Susanna’s words at the end echo the deep-inner truth that must be realized if one is to heal from BPD.
Misleading, I thought, was the way in which the movie portrayed Susanna’s healing as having taken place and been completed in those 18 months. Perhaps this was this woman’s truth but I find it hard to believe that anyone, especially, at 18-19 years of age could fully heal from BPD so fast, let alone at all. (at that age) I would think that Ms. Kaysen had challenges yet to face in her healing journey. I thought that the message of such fast healing was one of false-hope at best and was very misleading at worst.
The movie’s theme seemed to challenge the viewer to think about what crazy means. It also made it clear that while the institutionalized world and the "real" world are indeed two very separate places – being "crazy" or being "sane" may indeed not be such separate experiences or realities after all.
I would recommend the movie, not so much for any education or insight into Borderline Personality Disorder, but more just for the entertainment value.
I for one, truly hope a better vehicle comes along to convey the very poignant ins and outs of borderline personality disorder in a much more indepth way and in a way that is not reliant upon the contrast against the sociopathic personality.
© A.J. Mahari August 14, 2000