At first glance Girl, Interrupted seems to be merely a female take on One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. It is not. In fact, the story is based on the best-selling memoirs of Susanna Kaysen. Winona Ryder lends her weepy eyes and eccentric persona to the character of Susanna, a rich white girl with too much on her mind as the world changes around her. Moviegoers learn, through a series of flashbacks that Susanna graduated from high school, slept with her father's business associates and wanted to be a writer (Susanna's mental condition causes her to jump from time period to time period with little connection). Then she tries to kill herself with aspirin and vodka. That lands her in Claymoore Hospital, an upscale mental institution. She makes friends, settles in, breaks out, comes back and generally ties herself into emotional knots.
Positive Elements: It's twisted, but seeing the reality of suicide radically alters Susanna's state of mind regarding her own death. She had spent a great deal of time dreaming about suicide, but its brutality confronts her when one of her self-destructive friends follows through. It shatters her melancholy and romantic illusions (see "Violent Content" for the down side). Susanna is portrayed as a troubled, yet caring individual. She establishes deep friendships with a few of the other girls at Claymoore, and on several occasions goes out of her way to either cheer them up or help them in some way. She's appalled at the lack of warmth and respect for others that her friend Lisa displays. In the end she must decide whether to stay in the asylum, where she has cultivated a feeling of safety, or re-launch her life in the real world. She chooses wisely.
Sexual Content: Among other things, Susanna is diagnosed as being compulsively promiscuous. She places herself into sexual situations several times during the film. Other encounters are discussed, some in graphic terms. When her "boyfriend" comes to visit her, she drags him to her room for a romp in bed. Afterwards, she brags about performing oral sex. Indeed, extremely crude sexual (and homosexual) dialogue between the girls is common. Later, in a gesture of friendship Susanna leans over and gives Lisa a kiss on the side of her mouth. Implied lesbian attraction comes up a few times between Lisa and other girls, but she and Susanna never act out whatever feelings they may have.
Violent Content: Disruptive and violent mental patients are shown being admitted and treated at the hospital. Kicking, clawing, struggling and screaming make for several rather intense scenes. One of Susanna's friends hangs herself after Lisa unleashes a tirade of hate and accusations against her. The poor girl is accused (in explicit terms) of enjoying her incestuous relationship with her father. The camera lingers on her dead body hanging over the bathtub as Lisa callously goes through her pockets for money. Susanna cries hysterically.
Crude or Profane Language: F-words dominate with over 50 uses. The s-word and other vulgarities aren't far behind.
Drug and Alcohol Content: Susanna and her fellow patients smoke constantly. Rarely are any of them seen without a cigarette between their lips. Susanna chases a bottle of pills with alcohol in her suicide attempt. Revelers drink at a dance club. Patients at Claymoore trade pills for favors. When Susanna and Lisa break out of the hospital they share a marijuana joint with a group of hippies.
Summary: Susanna is diagnosed with a "borderline personality disorder" that results in severe depression—a state of mind that's likely to follow audiences out of the theater. Girl, Interrupted is a dreary indulgence into the world of mental disorders, despair and hatred with little offered to lift the gloom. Many teens may find affinity with Susanna's disenfranchised existence, but they won't get much hope in return.