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Lingvistov Films in English: Girl, Interrupted (1999)

Sometimes the only way to stay sane
Is to go a little crazy


‘Girl, Interrupted’ is a 1999 based on a true story drama film about a woman's 18-month stay at a mental institution, starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. It was adapted from the original book Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen and directed by James Mangold. The film is rated R for strong language and content relating to drugs, sexuality and suicide. 

The movie ‘Girl Interrupted’ is a story of a nineteen year old girl (Susanna) in the 1960’s who, after being suspected of trying to commit suicide, gets sent away to the Mental Institution (Claymoore) for a short ‘resting period.’ Her psychiatrist had suggested to her that the affair with one of her parents’ friends, along with her misconception that chasing a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of vodka is anything other than a suicide attempt, could be signs that she may be suffering from ‘borderline personality disorder.’ Now she had to try to keep herself from going crazy – surrounded by a bunch of crazies.

At the ClaymooreHospital, Susanna quickly becomes familiar to a number of the institution’s residents. These residents included Georgina (a pathological liar), Polly (a terminally fearful burn victim), Daisy (an incest victim and extremely withdrawn agoraphobic), and Lisa (a charming, but manipulating sociopath). The only character to really do a great job in adequately portraying the characteristics of their disorder was Lisa, the sociopath. Antisocial personality disorder is a psychiatric condition characterized by chronic behavior that manipulates, exploits, or violates the rights of others. “Individuals with antisocial personality disorder are often angry and arrogant but may be capable of superficial wit and charm. They may be adept at flattery and are very skilled at manipulating the emotions for their own personal gain(www.nlm.nih.gov). I thought Lisa disorder was accurately portrayed - even with her total disregard for the concerns (and even the lives of others), she still manages to some how charm the audience with her blunt brutal honesty and her ‘I don’t care what people think of me’ attitude. People diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder seem to have no emotional connection to any one or anything, and seldom show any signs of remorse for their intrusions on the rights of others. Lisa’s power of observations gave her the uncanny ability to sense the weakness in other people, which as most sociopaths do, used them for her own personal gain.


Then there was Daisy, an obsessive-compulsive girl  whose ongoing affair with her father had left her with a number of various personality disorders to choose from (there weren’t many disorders that she didn’t show symptoms of.) Her character did a wonderful job portraying a neurotic recluse whose various disorders took over her life to the point she felt she no longer had any hope for living independently of her sexually abusive father. Other characters include Polly, with her self-inflicted burns that have kept her forever childlike, and Georgina the pathological liar and roommate of the borderline Susanna. It was amongst these characters that Susanna found the strength to confront her own turbulent mentality.

IISusanna’s character did a good job with allowing the narrative to paint a picture of the thought processes of someone who suffers from depression or other personality disorders. Even though she did show signs of having a borderline personality, I personally felt that she showed more signs of depression than anything else. “A person with depression or bipolar disorder typically endures the same mood for weeks; a person with BPD may experience intense bouts of anger, depression, and anxiety that may last only hours, or at most a day(Zanarini 1998).

‘Girl, Interrupted’ is rated R for strong language and content relating to drugs, sexuality, and suicide. The language of the movie shows not only the development of the characters but also the instability and a general pessimistic attitude of young people during the 60s.

At the very beginning of the film, we hear Susanna saying, “Maybe I was just crazy. Maybe it was the '60s. Or maybe I was just a girl...interrupted.” This idea reveals the importance of the time influence, when after the Cold War the consensual depression not only of the American nation, but particularly of the young generation took place. Consequently, there was no outward censorship of behavior and language. Of course, one may relate the foul language of the movie to the mental institution and think it was used mainly by insane people. But if look deeper, we dare to say that Claymoore is a kind of a miniature picture of the United States in 1960’s.

Example: /episode in Ice-Cream Caf? - fighting/

This uneasy time is authentically depicted in the poem “Resume” written by Dorothy Parker which is very popular in Claymore, strange as it may seem.

“Razors pain you; rivers are damp;
Acid stains you; drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give…
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.” 

The title of the film is based on Vermeer’s painting “Girl, Interrupted.” On this picture the girl has been distracted and turns to look with a slightly quizzical expression. One wonders what has caused the interruption and why is has not yet disturbed her companion.   She and the man are holding a sheet of paper, presumably a letter or a sheet of music.  Once again, Vermeer presents an enigmatic scene,  leaving it ambiguous whether the man is the girl's teacher or lover.  The viewer is offered a privileged moment to look into the girl's eyes, just before her companion turns to see who has entered the room. The girl has such a magnetic look, as if she’s trying to get out of the painting. Pretty much the same is with Susanna, who’s desperately trying to get rid of the miserable mediocre life she’s found herself in.

Speaking about the characters’ speech development and the vocabulary of each heroine of the film, it should be mentioned, that though they seem to go independently, at the same time they have a close influence on each other.

Susanna judges things, she is insight a lot. It is not very important for her what’s going on around unless she sees something meaningful in it. She wants to be a writer and the way she plays with words, uses particular stylistic devices is indeed professional. She has the talent to express her tricky psychological state and some awkward visions through words only.

For instance, when trying to explain to her doctor the feelings she has (like no bones in her hand and space disorientation) she gives a rather clear description of her inner state:

“Explain to a doctor that the laws of physics can be suspended? That what goes up may not come down? Explain...that time...can move backwards and forwards...and now to then and back again...and you can't control it?”

Another example is her analysis of her condition after the treatment in Claymore in her diary: 

“I can honestly say that my memory has been transformed....By Freud's definition, I've achieved mental health. And my discharge sheet reads, 'recovered’. Whatever it was...Had I stopped arguing with my personality”

As a writer, Susanna has the ability to see through the people around her, to analyze and compare the things not visible for the others. She is brave in her observations, not afraid to put into the words her inmost presumptions:

Lisa's eyes, once so magnetic, now just look empty. Georgina lies only to people who keep her here. Sometimes I think she wants to live in Oz forever. In this world, looks are everything. Sometimes I think Polly's sweetness and purity aren't genuine at all...but a desperate attempt to make it easier for us to look at her’.

The antagonist of the movie is Lisa’s character. She is the opposite of Susanna, and with Susanna being thoughtful and sometimes even aloof, very often Lisa takes the central part of the movie. Lisa is very upfront and direct, she is a real fighter, being surrounded by a bunch of girls who are hiding under all these masks that make her angry.

Throughout the whole movie Lisa carries different kinds of roles starting with a “hot chick”:

“Hey, guys! Hey, sexy!”

and ending “playing a villain” as she herself mentions.

“I told Daisy what everybody knew and wouldn't say, and she killed herself. I played the [fucking] villain. Just like you wanted”.

Her language varies from role to role. She is a great psycho herself, she sees what other people don’t and that makes her so captivating, even when she does terrible things.

“You changed the scenery, but not the situation...and the warden makes house calls. And everybody knows. Everybody knows that he fucks you. What they don't know...is that you like it. Man, it's cool. It's okay. It's fucking fine! A man is a dick is a man is a dick is a chicken...is a dad...a Valium, a speculum, whatever”.

There are a great number of nonce words, created by Lisa.

- So have you had your first Melvin yet? /episode/
Your the-rapist, sweet pea.
- So what's your "diag-nonsense"?   /episode/
- I have a borderline personality.
- Well, that's nothing. What else?

Susanna, following Lisa’s style of speech, mocks people around her and tries to create her own nonce words:

 - It's almost Christmas. What do we say to the people who care about her?
- See, Melvin, what’s going on here is...my parents are having a little “holiday-cocktail-Christmas-party-crisis”.

The lexis of the film is deliberately undersized, and along with a great number of

  • colloquial words: gonna, wanna, daddy, chrissake, junkie, loonie, topnotch, cops, freak, hey, etc.

 there are examples of:

  • jargon : checks /регулярные проверки пациентов/, to buy a private / оплачивать личную палату пациента/, two-to-one /две медсестры на одного пациента/, shocks, meds, etc.
  • slang: a dyke /мужеподобная женщина/, to ball of /наслаждаться/, a chick /цыпочка/, sweet pea /дорогуша/, rubber /презерватив/, to bum smth /стрельнутьчто-то/, pecker, to poop  etc.

Wordplay is greatly popular throughout “Girl, Interrupted.” Its aim is to make the viewers laugh at some funny situations. For example, the episode in Ice-Cream Caf?:

- Can I have a vanilla sundae with hot fudge...and sprinkles. Rainbow, not chocolate. And...whipped cream, cherries...and...
- Nuts.

Here, the word “nuts” has a double meaning: 1. it means “a dry brown fruit inside a brown shell” 2. “a crazy person”

Claymore is a mental institution and even though not everybody there is “f***ing crazy”, its residents behave as if they were. There is no outer censorship in behavior for patients, as well as for nursing staff. (That’s why the movie is R rated). Heroines of the film use lexical and stylistic vulgarisms alongside with common words.

For example:


Lexical: “…that I’m a fucking whore…” (Lisa)

 “Am I in trouble for giving my boyfriend a blowjob or kissing an orderly?” (Susanna)

“…I want my fucking clothes…” (Janet)

“Look, she gave your husband a rim job. Big fucking deal! He was begging for it, and I heard it was  like a pencil, anyway” (Lisa)

“You know, I can take a lot of crazy shit from a lot of crazy people...” (Valerie)

“What the fuck's going on inside my head?” (Susanna)

“Get the fuck off me. Look at your own arm, asshole” (Daisy)

“Good luck, crazy bitch” (Lisa)

As a writer-to-be, Susanna gains an insight of some words. She is curious about people uttering under particular circumstances various words, she wants to know the meaning of these words, that is behind the surface. For example, when reading about her diagnosis she comes across the definition of Borderline Personality Disorder, which states: “Impulsive in activities that are self-damaging...such as casual sex”. She is interested to know what “casual sex” means and the other girls explain it as “promiscuous.” Now she is puzzled about the word “promiscuous”. When talking to Dr. Wick, Susanna asks her about it:

“How many guys would I have to sleep with to be considered promiscuous? Textbook promiscuous? Ten. Eight. Five. How many girls would a guy have to sleep with to be considered promiscuous? Ten? 20? 109?”

Then Susanna together with Dr. Wick tries to reveal the idea of the word “ambivalent”. And they find out that the word itself sometimes can carry not only philosophical, but also psychological message.

/episode about conversation with Dr. Wick/

“- I'm ambivalent. In fact, that's my new favorite word.
- Do you know what that means, ambivalence?
- I don't care. It means "I don't care." That's what it means.
- 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.
- Will I stay or will I go?
- Am I sane or am I crazy?
- Those aren't courses of action.
- They can be, dear, for some”.

This dialog is extremely important for the message of the movie itself. In fact, it is the climax of the film, when the protagonist chooses whether to stay at the hospital and not bother about human laws and follow her impulses, or fight her depression, choose though imperfect but real world.

Dr. Wick “presses her button”, calling things by their proper names. She gives Susanna food for thought, emphasizing the importance of the situation she is currently in:

“It's a very big question you're faced with, Susanna. The choice of your life. How much will you indulge in your flaws? If you embrace them, will you commit yourself to hospital for life? Big questions, big decisions. Not surprising you profess carelessness about them”

Lisa’s been very important for Susanna, as she’s been something that Susanna wasn’t but always wanted to be. Their friendship did not contribute much to Susanna’s so-called “recovery”. But when Lisa is gone, Susanna, under the influence of Dr.Wick’s therapy and her own inner observations, chooses to struggle against her visions and chronic depression. She chooses the reality: 

I've wasted a year of my life. And maybe everyone 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...

Susanna and Lisa are mirror images and basically Susanna is seeing herself as a person she could become if she isn’t taking another road. At some point Lisa’s love of anarchy and fun and rebellion lead to dead end.

-You know, they're just begging to be pressed. And it makes me wonder. It makes me fucking wonder. Why doesn't anybody ever press mine? Why am I so neglected? Why doesn't anybody reach in and rip out the truth...and tell me that I'm a fucking whore...and that my parents wish I were dead?

-Because you're dead already, Lisa! No one cares if you die, Lisa...because you're 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.

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 l was just crazy. Maybe it was the '60s. Or maybe l was just a girl... interrupted.

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