Girl, Interrupted
directed by John Magnold
(Columbia Pictures, 2000)

The opening scene shows Susanna (Winona Ryder, Little Women, Alien: Resurrection) sitting silently in a dank basement with Lisa and a few of the other patients at Claymoore, a psychiatric institution. Then, Susanna begins to tell her story. Set in the 1960s, just after she graduates from high school, she has no plans for her life other than "to write" -- and having supposedly attempted suicide (although whether or not it was a true suicide attempt is left ambiguous for the length of the movie) she is sent to see a psychiatrist. After only one visit, he prescribes "a short rest" for Susanna at Claymoore.

Susanna isn't really sure why she's been institutionalized, and she's certain she doesn't belong there. Still, she manages to make friends with some of her fellow inmates and some of the employees of the renowned mental facility. Among these is Valerie (Whoopi Goldberg, Boys on the Side, Ghost, Ghosts of the Mississippi), a kind-hearted nurse who truly wants the best for her wards. She has a snappy wit and is often there for Susanna and her other patients at their hardest moments. Lisa (Angelina Jolie, Hackers, Playing God, The Bone Collector) is a diagnosed sociopath who gains her enjoyment both from torturing and leading the other inmates; she is both caring and vindictive by turns. Georgina (Clea Duvall, The Faculty, She's All That) is Susanna's roommate and a pathological liar.

Directed by James Magnold, the movie brilliantly blends Susanna's present, her life in the institution, with flashbacks to earlier points in her life, including parties she's attended and her sexual encounters with a fellow partygoer (before he's drafted for service in Vietnam) and a teacher from her school. The flashbacks are used sparingly throughout the film, but are a great device for helping the viewer understand Susanna's supposed illness.

Also of note is the cinematography. From the dark basement, where Lisa and Susanna have their worst confrontation, to the deeply disturbing shower scene (you'll have to see the movie to understand what I mean here) the cinematography is simple but elegant (and includes a beautiful look at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's Market Street Bridge). These views also serve to remind the viewer that the world that Susanna lives in is not that different from our own.

If the movie had a weak point, it was the good guy vs. bad guy scenario that developed awkwardly -- but briefly -- in the story. The strength of the characters, the plot and the theme of the movie are more than sufficient to make up for that slip. Although this is not a movie to see if you are looking for mindless entertainment, it is one of the best movies I have recently seen. In particular, it's a must-see for anyone interested in psychology, or just looking for a good drama.

[ by Dan Ford ]

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