Making an assessment of the mental health of the characters in James Mangold’s 1999 film “Girl, Interrupted,” can only be done with reference to Susanna Kaysen’s 1993 memoir from which the film was adapted. Because the film is based on a true story as related in Kaysen’s book of the same title, speculation regarding the author’s mental state is a questionable endeavor. Whether Susanna Kaysen feels “healed” by her experience in a psychiatric hospital is unlikely. What Kaysen feels is knowledgeable. Her time in the real-life clinic opened her eyes to the realities around her, including the fact that she was immeasurably healthier than some of those with whom she was treated.
In the film version of “Girl, Interrupted,” the characters of Lisa and Daisy represent perhaps the greatest depth of emotional instability. Daisy, who is eventually released only to later commit suicide, has been repressing the fact that she has been the victim of repeated sexual abuse at the hands of her father. It is Lisa, however, who pushes Daisy off the proverbial ledge in an emotionally-wrenching exchange in Daisy’s new apartment, provided by her father:
“They didn’t release you because you’re better, Daisy, they just gave up. You call this a life, hmmm? Taking daddy’s money, buying your dollies and your knick-knacks . . . You changed the scenery, but not the fucking 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.”
Daisy could be considered the most emotionally injured of the characters, and her suicide certainly illuminates the tragedy of her existence. It is Lisa, though, who personifies the irreparably-harmed woman, whose invective aimed at the other girls cannot disguise the pain and resentment that is eating away at her and that has resulted in her eight-year stay at the psychiatric facility. In a climactic exchange between Susanna and Lisa, Susanna finally confronts the demons that have haunted Lisa:
Lisa: “Why am I so neglected? Why doesn’t anyone reach in and rip out the truth and tell me that I’m a fucking whore, or that my parents wish I were dead?”
Susann: “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.”
This scene demonstrates the degree to which Susanna has progressed in coming to terms with her situation and the extent to which she has come to realize that Lisa isn’t the voice of reason and experience; Lisa is an angry, bitter person who can’t function outside of the facility’s walls. Whether Susanna is “healed” by the end of the film is unknown. In contemplating her condition after she is released and sent home, she thinks to herself:
“Declared healthy and sent back into the world. My final diagnosis: a recovered borderline. What that means, I still don’t know. Was I ever crazy? Maybe. Or maybe life is.”
Her year in the psychiatric facility has exposed Susanna to far more troubled individuals than herself, and provided her a fuller picture of what life entails. Both Lisa and Daisy were inarguably in worse condition. That one ends up dead and the other angry and alone is testament to that conclusion.