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Things to learn from Girl, Interrupted

By Zoë Alter (Reporter, ‘23)

(PS. There are Spoilers.)

Girl, Interrupted, a hit movie made in 1999 and developed from the novel of the same title (Girl, Interrupted, 1993, Suzanna Kayson), has had a surge in popularity over the last two months. The film, well known for its main and supporting actresses (Winona Rider and Angelina Jolie, respectively), depicts a young woman named Suzzana Kayson who checks herself into a mental health facility. There, she meets several different people and faces a multitude of experiences. Captured by the “hype,” I decided to watch the film and found myself touched by several aspects, so I took it upon myself to make a list of the three lessons that the film teaches most effectively.

Rethink the use of the word “crazy”:

  • The film's characters in the mental hospital are often described as “crazy” and, with enough time, Suzzana convinces herself that she is just as “crazy” as them. However, as the film progresses and we learn the stories of all these characters, it becomes clear that none of these characters are “crazy” and that “crazy” is a completely improper term. The term “crazy,” used to demonize mentally ill people, is thrown out as the viewer begins to understand the emotions of each person, such as Polly (Elisabeth Moss), who resorts to acting like a child because her face was terribly burned as a kid, and Lisa (Angelina Jolie), whose parents abandoned her, leading her to develop cold and cruel tendencies. The overall message of each of these characters' backstories is clear: having struggles doesn’t make you “crazy.” Your coping mechanisms may be unhealthy, but that is not enough for the world to demonize you.

Don’t fight against those who try to help:

  • A complex character in the film, Valerie (Whoopi Goldberg) is one of the nurses and authority figures at the mental institution. Her character is kind but stern, as she keeps everyone in check. Suzzana begins to rebel against the rules after becoming friends with the defiant Lisa, and she slowly begins to disrespect her doctors more and more, calling their information “diagnonsense.” The final straw in her rebellion is when she sings an old “slave song” to Valerie, who is attempting to sober her up from the drug valium. She then attempts to hurt Valerie by hurling many racially problematic sayings at her. After that, she runs away with Lisa. When she comes back after witnessing something horrific, she reconciles with Valerie, profusely apologizing. When Suzzana finally begins to listen to her doctors and genuinely try some of the coping mechanisms given to her, she begins a steep incline toward recovery. The overall message of this story arc is clear: at times, the authority figures that are placed there to help you can, believe it or not, actually help you. Disrespecting those people is the worst thing you can do.

Learn to handle conflict appropriately: (Trigger warning: death, graphic situations, sexual assault. Do not read if these topics could be potentially triggering or dangerous to you.)

  • The most graphic scene, and by far the most jarring, is the suicide of one of the girls (Daisy Randone, played by Brittany Murphy). To contextualize, Daisy’s character is released from the mental hospital, as her father had bought her an apartment of her own. When Suzzana and Lisa run away and need a place to stay (and money for a theoretical flight to Florida), they go to Daisy's apartment. When they are there, Lisa and Daisy get into a heated argument. Letting her temper seemingly get the better of her, Lisa reveals that Daisy's father has been molesting and preying on Daisy since she was young. She then goes on to state that “Daisy likes it” and that she was “still sick and crazy.” The next morning, Daisy kills herself and Suzzana finds her. This scene, while obviously taken to the extreme, portrays something I think everyone can relate to in the heat of an argument: saying something regrettable. It teaches a huge, multi-faceted lesson to all of us: think before you speak, remember that you don't know what other people are going through, and be aware that you don't know if they are stable or not. Do not say unnecessary or cruel things, and do not attempt to push someone's buttons. In a conflict, simply calmly address the matter and move on. This is the most important lesson of the three, and in my opinion is a lesson that everyone can take into consideration in their own lives, even if the circumstances they face are less extreme than they were in the film.

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