by Peter Keough
The title of Susanna Kaysen's memoir Girl, Interrupted indicates some of
the problems faced by the screen adapter. How to make a film about inaction?
True, there's a lot going on below the frozen surface of Kaysen's stark account
of a privileged '60s teenager whose life is interrupted by mental illness and a
protracted stay at McLean Hospital. Kaysen's descriptions of the precarious
nature of fundamental mental functions, of what happens when the pattern in a
carpet makes too much sense and the pattern of a face makes no sense at all,
are especially unsettling. But it would take a bold and gifted filmmaker to
capture such deranged subjectivity. James Mangold, whose Heavy and
Copland defied convention and evoked commonplace experience, would seem
a likely candidate. Not so, though, as Girl proves a listless showcase
of Hollywood clichés about crazy people, the '60s, and women, a
reactionary, distaff Cuckoo's Nest.
As Kaysen, Winona Ryder brings a beautiful blank slate to the character. She's
a spoiled brat who's tired of school and doesn't know what she wants out of
life, so she takes an overdose of aspirin and earns a ticket to Claymore (the
coy stand-in for McLean). There she gets scared straight by her contact with
really crazy people, in particular Lisa (a posturing Angelina Jolie), a
sociopath whose flightiness, selfishness, and kicky clothes embody the
pathological nature of liberated women and the wayward liberalism of the whole
decade. But guided by nurse Whoopi Goldberg at her most self-righteous and
shrink Vanessa Redgrave at her starchiest, Kaysen learns the error of her
self-indulgent, borderline-personality-disorder ways and returns, chastened and
uninterrupted, into society. So much for the book's insight into the subtle
seductions of madness and the role of psychiatry in repressing social deviance.
This girl is not only interrupted, she's misinterpreted as well.
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