The first time I watched Girl, Interrupted I was too young to understand what Susanna Kayson, Winona Ryder’s character, meant by her gnomic statements about time moving backwards and forwards without warning, or what was happening in the opening shot, as she clawed at the tubes in her mouth meant to pump her stomach clean. And who can forget, during the same opening shot, the deep bruise on her wrist, and the macabre declaration, “my bones are all gone.” I did not make the connection until many years later that her stomach was being pumped because she had swallowed a bottle of Advil, that it was this first suicide attempt that was making her speak through a veil of delirium. Even since this first viewing, I have felt a kind of emotional kinship with Ryder’s character. Even before having the vantage of any deep personal experiences with which to identify her charecter, I still understood something about what it meant to battle with yourself, within yourself.
Recently, I re-watched the film for the first time in a while, this time after coming out on the other end of some personal drama. And, is it any surprise that I continue to take away personal wisdom from this film? If you don’t already know, Ryder plays a woman with ‘borderline personality disorder,’ which includes a group of broadly defined symptoms. Like: depression. Like: identity loss, promiscuity, and pessimism. In one of the film’s epitomic moments, Angelina Jolie’s charecter reads Ryder’s chart out loud to her. After hearing the swath of behaviors that have landed her with her BP diagnosis, she concedes, “well…that’s me.” “That’s everybody,” Jolie, rightly, retorts.
So what sets Ryder’s character apart from the rest of the world, who is able, it seems, to handle their interior emotional tumult? Not as much as you might think. During the soliloquy that caps the end of the movie, Ryder disrupts mainstream understandings of what mental illness is. “Crazy isn’t being broken or swallowing a dark secret, it is you or me amplified.” And, anyone who can’t empathize to some degree with Ryder’s pain after Daisy (Brittany Murphy’s character) commits suicide is lying.
“What would you have told her? 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.”
Winona Ryder’s character translates her feelings of fragility, the language of the border, throughout Girl, Interrupted. The audience, at first, is given the impression that Ryder’s sense of style is one more manifestation of her character’s interior dis-ease, what with that boyish haircut and manner of dress, that all too serious glare of hers. I cannot help but feel that her wardrobes limited and darker palette is but one more representation of the extremis with which she regards herself. At times, a casual white button-up with black jeans is subversive, as in the scene where she triples her prescription of Valium in a moment of needed relief. At other moments, a striped sweater with the same black pants don’t seem enough outer protection for the world she braves, and Ryder is, again, rendered transparent and exposed. Of course, it is not until the end of the movie that Ryder feels at home in her own skin, and that we, the audience, can buy the message that fragility can sometimes really mean honesty and truthfulness.
–David Sanchez, Features Editor