Girl Interrupted: A Glimpse into Writer Susanna Kaysen’s Mind

Although Girl Interrupted did win an award and was even an Academy Award nominee, it does not have great reviews. Perhaps it is simply too honest and open for some people. Some seemed to feel that the movie is not believable. However, it seems credible to me.

Girl Interrupted is loosely based on Susanna Kaysen’s own life and the time during the 1960’s that she spent in a mental hospital. Even before she was committed, Susanna Kaysen was a writer and many writers tend to be overly analytical. They tend to think too much:

Susanna: I’m ambivalent. In fact that’s my new favorite word.
Dr. Wick: Do you know what that means, ambivalence?
Susanna: I don’t care.
Dr. Wick: If it’s your favorite word, I would’ve thought you would…
Susanna: It *means* I don’t care. That’s what it means.
Dr. Wick: On the contrary, Susanna. Ambivalence suggests strong feelings… in opposition. The prefix, as in “ambidextrous,” means “both.” The rest of it, in Latin, means “vigor.” The word suggests that you are torn… between two opposing courses of action.
Susanna: Will I stay or will I go?
Dr. Wick: Am I sane… or, am I crazy?
Susanna: Those aren’t courses of action.
Dr. Wick: They can be, dear – for some.
Susanna: Well, then – it’s the wrong word.
Dr. Wick: No. I think it’s perfect.

Thinking too much is an excellent way to become depressed and to lose emotional control. Especially during the 1960s, people with emotional problems were considered to be threatening. I find it very credible that a person like Susanna could have been hospitalized–simply because she was not the norm. I salute Kaysen’s willingness to shine the light on her own demons. When we look at one of the earliest of the movie’s lines, the most honest of us can admit that there, but for the grace of God, could have gone I:

Susanna: [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 moving while sitting still? Maybe I was just crazy. Maybe it was the 60s. Or maybe I was just a girl… interrupted.

In the movie Girl Interrupted, Kayssen was played by Winona Ryder. I find the above quote particularly enlightening. In 2001, Ryder herself was prosecuted for shoplifting.

Angelina Jolie played Ryder’s counterpart. No doubt anorexic, Angelina is said to be suffering from her own emotional problems.

I have read that Angelina Jolie has a borderline personality, but I have no way to know if that is true.



I do know that many more people suffer emotionally than the public would like to admit. Some people are honest about their internal struggles and some are not. As I said before, I respect that Kayssen  was willing to allow the public a glimpse inside herself. She chose that route over lying–over lying to herself and to others.

Susanna: I’ve wasted a year of my life. Maybe everybody out there is a liar. And maybe the whole world is “stupid” and “ignorant”. But I’d rather be in it. I’d rather be fucking in it, then down here with you. [to Lisa]

Georgina: Lisa, is Daisy really getting out?
Lisa: Yeah, she coughed up a big one.
Susanna: But how could – I mean she’s… *insane*.

Lisa: Yeah, well that’s what ther-rape-me’s all about. That’s why fuckin’ Freud’s picture’s on every shrink’s wall. He created a fuckin’ industry. You lie down, you confess your secrets and you’re saved. Ca-ching! The more you confess, the more they think about settin’ you free.

Susanna: But what if you don’t have a secret?

Lisa: Then you’re a lifer, like me.

Dr. Wick played by Vanessa Redgrave

Dr. Wick: Quis hic locus?, quae regio?, quae mundi plaga? What world is this?… What kingdom?… What shores of what worlds? It’s a very big question you’re faced with, Susanna. The *choice* of your *life*. How much will you indulge in your flaws? What are your flaws? Are they flaws?… If you embrace them, will you commit yourself to hospital?… for life? Big questions, big decisions! Not surprising you profess carelessness about them.

Susanna: [very upset and uncomfortable] Is that it?
Dr. Wick: For now

In addition to Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, the movie Girl Interrupted has a strong cast, including Whoopi Goldberg, Vanessa Redgrave, and several other people who have become even more successful than they were in 1999 when the movie was released.

After one of the other patients committed suicide, Susanna begins to heal:

Valerie: [about Daisy] What would you have said to her?

Susanna: I don’t know. That I was sorry. That I will never know what it was like to be her. But I know what it’s like to want to die. How it hurts to smile. How you try to fit in but you can’t. You hurt yourself on the outside to try to kill the thing on the inside.

Valerie: Susanna, it’s all well and good to tell me all this; but you gotta tell some of this to your doctors.

Susanna: How the hell am I supposed to recover when I don’t even understand my disease?

Valerie: But you do understand it. You spoke very clearly about it a second ago. But I think what you’ve gotta do is put it down. Put it away. Put it in your notebook, but get it out of yourself. Away so you can’t curl up with it anymore.

Susanna: Lisa thinks it’s a gift. That it lets you see the truth.

Valerie: Lisa’s been here for eight years….

Valerie: Don’t drop anchor here, you understand?
Susanna: [narrating] When you don’t want to feel, death can seem like a dream. But seeing death, really seeing it, makes dreaming about it fucking ridiculous. Maybe, there’s a moment growing up when something peels back… Maybe, maybe, we look for secrets because we can’t believe our minds…

[overlapping words]

Susanna: All I know is that I began to feel things again. Whatever I was, I knew there was only one way back to the world and that was to use the place to talk. So I saw the great and wonderful Dr. Wick three times a week and I let her hear every thought in my head.

Susanna was diagnosed with Borderline Personality, but Lisa [Angelina Jolie] seems to have had much greater problems. She was diagnosed as a sociopath. The night before Susanna was released, Lisa stole Susanna’s diary and read it to everyone else. Many people were hurt by Lisa’s behavior and Susanna had the following to say about her:

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 your 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.

[Lisa falls down to her knees and screams]

Susanna: I’ve wasted a year of my life. Maybe everybody out there is a liar. And maybe the whole world is “stupid” and “ignorant”. But I’d rather be in it. I’d rather be fucking in it, then down here with you.

Susanna was released

Susanna: Declared healthy and sent back into the world. My final diagnosis: a recovered borderline. What that means, I still don’t know. Was I ever crazy? Maybe. Or maybe life is.
Susanna: Crazy isn’t being broken, or swallowing a dark secret. It’s you, or me, amplified. If you ever told a lie, and enjoyed it. If you ever wished you could be a child, forever.

©Jacki Kellum April 16, 2016




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