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Girl, Interrupted

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Girl, Interrupted

Starring: Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie
Director: James Mangold
Rated: R
RunTime: 127 Minutes
Release Date: January 2000
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Whoopi Goldberg, Vanessa Redgrave, Clea Duvall, Brittany Murphy, Elizabeth Moss, Jared Leto, Jeffrey Tambor, Travis Fine

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

What are Susanna's thoughts about suicide? Does she think about it consciously? From the movie we are not sure. Read the book and you'll get her philosophy in a nut-shell (so to speak): "Suicide is a form of murder--premeditated murder. You must practice imagining yourself dead, or in the process of dying. If there's a window, you must imagine your body falling out the window. If there's a knife, you must imagine the knife piercing your skin. If there's a train coming, you must imagine your torso flattened under the wheels. My motives were weak: an American-history paper I didn't want to write and the question I'd asked months earlier, Why not kill myself? Dead, I wouldn't have to write the paper." How is that for the author's dark humor? How can you bring this out in a movie short of using the deadening gesture of a narrative soundtrack? You could, I suppose, have her express these beliefs to her therapist. But serving up this and other thoughts could easily make the film into another Magnolia-like three and one-quarter hour epic. After all, the book is crammed with her unspoken contemplations and inner deliberations: it would be a shame to include this one and leave out others equally ironic and darkly whimsical.

During the course of the movie, the audience is rarely given an indication of Susanna's sanity. Was she basically OK and jostled into the institution because of a wicked society determined to put away unconventional women? Or did she really pose a danger to herself, hallucinating, seeing things so differently that she would be unable to function in society? I could not be sure from the film, but now, consulting the text, I understand: "I was having a problem with patterns. Oriental rugs, tile floors, printed curtains, things like that. Supermarkets were specially bad because of the long, hypnotic checkerboard aisles. When I looked at these things, I saw other things within them. When I looked at someone's face, I often did not maintain an unbroken connection to the concept of a face. Once you start parsing a face, it's a peculiar item: squishy, pointy, with lots of air vents and wet spots. This was the reverse of my problem with patterns. Instead of seeing too much meaning, I didn't see any."

But wait! She modifies her statement. "I wasn't simply going nuts. I was at all times perfectly conscious of my misperceptions of reality. I never believed anything I saw or thought I saw. I correctly understood each new weird activity." This gives the reader plenty of stuff to chew on. What really classifies people as nuts? Their actual belief in the truth of their hallucinations? Or the mere fact that they see things that are not there? The movie ignores this question leaving us nothing to ponder.

Strangely enough, Mangold leaves out much explanation of the film's title. The book clarifies...At New York's Frick Museum, Kaysen ponders Vermeer's painting, one of a girl seated with her piano teacher but looking wistfully through the window. "This time I read the title of the painting: 'Girl Interrupted at Her Music.' Interrupted at her music: as my life had been, interrupted in the music of being seventeen, as her life had been. My boyfriend found me crying in the hallway. 'Don't you see, she's trying to get out,' I pointed at her. He looked at the painting. 'All you ever think about is yourself. You don't understand anything about art.'"

Depending on where you live, you should be able to access between 100 and 450 brand new movies this year. Some use screenplays adapted from novels and biographies, others are original. There is no defining characteristic that allows us to know to which category a given film lies, unless we have advance knowledge of the production or are familiar with the book from which it is taken. Who is to say that "Being John Malkovich" would be better on the printed page or on the screen? We have no way of knowing since the film is an original. But in the case of "Girl, Interrupted," Mangold necessarily misses out on quite a bit of the author's anger, even such basic information as the rationale of the title. Kaysen's caustic wit, pronounced irony, personal viewpoints and even ordinary descriptive information go largely and perhaps necessarily neglected. Do you think--as I do not-- that the movie is better than the book?

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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