6 thoughts on “Girl, Interrupted’s Film adaptation

  1. Alexander Tieberg

    There are so many differences between the memoir and the movie that it is difficult to know where to start. I think one of the biggest differences that affects the movie is the fact that she escapes, or is tempted to escape, a few times in the film. Jared Leto’s character, Toby, who Suzanna has a relationship with outside of the asylum and at one point tries to get her to run away to Canada to get her out of the asylum and for him to avoid being drafted to serve in Vietnam. Lisa and Suzanna escape for a night, party with some men, and go to Daisy’s apartment.

    This additional part of the movie, among all of the others, is surprising to me. It seems like the film writers took some radical liberties in their work. I feel like this, in a sense, minimizes Suzanna Kaysen’s real story by adding in some ridiculous plot lines that take it so far away from her real experience. Lisa, who was just cruel to Daisy in the apartment, made the story depart from Suzanna’s real story that it doesn’t seem like they should share the same title.

    It is interesting that the writers changed how Daisy kills herself in the movie compared to the book. In the film, Lisa essentially drives Daisy to kill herself, but in the book, Lisa isn’t there. The fact that the writers kept one part of the original story—Daisy’s suicide—but manipulated it so much that it affects the viewers understanding of another character, is a bold decision that completely changes the story.

    Overall, Lisa was a much larger character in the film than in the memoir. Portrayed as a central character, the relationship between Lisa and Suzanna wildly changes the storyline from the one in the book.

  2. Aidan Cameron

    One of the most drastic differences between the film and the book lies in the depiction of Lisa Rowe. Lisa Cody is not in the movie, leaving room on the “stage” for Angelina Jolie’s Lisa to play the role of an alluring delinquent. Some plot points involving Lisa Rowe are made up, such as her escape with Kaysen at the end and their first-hand discovery of Daisy’s suicide.
    The director fabricates another plot point in having Lisa search Daisy for belongings, which did not happen in the book and likely insulted the author due to her personal connection to the Lisa she depicted. The producers of the film seem to take the “bad girl” image of Lisa further and attempt to portray it in a negative light, as shown by Kaysen’s (in the film) revulsion towards Lisa’s treatment of Daisy’s body. Furthermore, this depiction of Lisa leaves her no room for redemption – which the book attempts by depicting Lisa with a toddler, seemingly in good mental health. The producers instead seem to by driving home the idea that Lisa’s mischievous attitude towards the hospital and the world at large is symptomatic of a permanent problem, which will render her a chronic sociopath and unable to fit into society – a fate which the film’s version of Kaysen ultimately decides to avoid.

  3. Campbell Goldsmith

    A crucial difference between the movie and the book is the beginning of both mediums. While the novel offers a chronological story of how Susanna moves from an average teenage girl with mental health issues to a committed insane patient, the movie creates a time lapse introducing flashbacks between Susanna’s prior and current life. The movie also displays Susanna as an unreliable narrator – in the book she is not afraid to state her thoughts/ideas because they are within her own head. The movie does not allow for this type of narration and therefore changes the viewer’s perspective of her character to shy, introverted, and naive. With the change in perspective of Susanna’s character and the time lapse between the present and future, our entire understanding of the story changes in reference to the movie. Susanna is eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a diagnosis that in the book the reader is supposed to question. However, without Susanna’s internal narration and these periods of despondency that Susanna seems lost in the movie, the diagnosis seems much more real. While the intent of both mediums was to have viewership question the validity of mental health treatment in the late 20th century, the movie puts much more ownership towards the institutions and doctors. Additionally, Susanna’s relationship with Lisa in the movie, pushes the viewer to agree with Susanna’s diagnosis. Susanna follows Lisa’s lead without a hesitation, emphasizing her need for companionship and naivety when it comes to reality. Susanna is depressed when Lisa is moved to a separate ward, further illustrating her dependency on Lisa. Lastly, in the movie Lisa and Susanna escape together in attempt to travel to Florida to work at Disney World (in the book this never occurs – Susanna is released on recovery). Susanna’s attempt to play into the insanities of Lisa and follow along her diabolical path causes the viewer to truly question Susanna’s sanity; is she only a teenage girl with mental health issues, or is there a larger problem at hand?

  4. Isaac Feldman

    The narrative perception of medical authority and efficacy changes drastically in the film adaptation of Girl, Interrupted. While the book is completely narrated from the first person perspective, the film presents a melange of first person point of view, narrative, and third person point of view which immediately begins to establish Susanna as a biased narrator. In the book, Susanna is often matter-of-fact: she comments extensively on what she perceives to be her own problems, such as her suicide attempt, and is at pains to provide a reasoned, though not necessarily complete, perspective of situations. She also does not hide her bias — the reader is well aware Susanna lacks respect for the system she adheres to. The Susanna narrating the novel is not her at the time of its events, but one who is determined to convince the reader of an authentic retrospective. Only late in the novel — though not necessarily late in the narrative — does the “Bare Bones” chapter occur, where Susanna portrays her attempt to find the bones in her hand by stripping its skin. The reader, still immersed in the impression that the narrative is trustworthy, sees this behavior as a product of the hospital system rather than some intrinsic trait of Susanna’s illness. “Bare Bones” is what the ward drives Susanna to; society forces the role of insanity onto her.
    In the film adaptation, Susanna is immediately untrustworthy. After opening to what we later discover is one of the final events of the film, Susanna is thrust into the memory of her suicide attempt, where she deliriously reveals her wrist banging was an attempt to find the bones in her hand, to prove she was human. As the film progresses, fluid first person cuts accelerate, and it becomes increasingly apparent that Susanna’s sense of time and space is abnormal. She constantly jumps between her memories and the present, and informed by our impression of her attempted suicide, these transitions reveal a mental instability completely different from the novel’s. Meanwhile, the third person scenes find Susanna in deep denial that she tried to kill herself, with sympathetic and knowledgeable doctors who are more professional than coercive. The doctors have genuine competence and understanding — with the exception of Jeffrey Tambor’s Dr. Potts, who, while incompetent, seems to have true empathy for his patients. Dr. Wick, for example, is deeply engaging and insightful as to Susanna’s issues, and Nurse Valerie, while less respected by patients than in the novel, is even more helpful to them, Susanna in particular. Medical methods are summarily effective in the film adaptation — a stark contrast to their almost farcical interpretation in the novel.

    1. Colleen Gair

      I thought the movie was a good stand alone movie, but felt completely separate from the book. There were many moments throughout the movie where I was genuinely confused as to why the director decided to include. As Isaac mentioned, the first person narration was lost in the movie. Susanna’s sensibility was so engaging to read, and her sense of humor in her writer’s voice showcased her intelligence in such a subtle way. The movie halfheartedly tried to include some of this by having her keep a journal, but that fell pretty flat for me because the camera would just randomly zoom in to show a phrase written in her notebook without any of her extrapolation.
      The relationship between Susanna and Lisa felt very different in the book than in the movie. They portrayed both characters as caricatures of who they were in the movie, which felt like the opposite message as to what Susanna did in her memoir. In the book, it felt so often that Lisa was trying to prove that she was a sociopath, and this approach was used to demonstrate the incompetence of the time’s mental health treatment. However, in the movie there was no doubt as to Lisa’s sociopathic tendencies, and though really well acted, felt manipulative and threatening in a way that Lisa in the book did not. In the book it did not feel like Susanna was following Lisa around without much agency. Placing Susanna and Lisa at Daisy’s apartment when she commits suicide felt like a crucial change. Lisa’s instigation of the thought process that led to Daisy’s suicide was excruciating to watch, and further portrayed her as unabashedly manipulative in the name of honesty. Further, her total lack of emotion when looking at the dead body felt overly dramatic. Perhaps she did not actually feel any guilt because as she said, she merely said what everyone was thinking, and maybe Daisy did have suicidal tendencies, but it felt beyond realistic to have her just shrug and walk away seeing Daisy hanging. Further, the addition of the scene made it seem like the movie needed to have external reasons for Susanna’s instability. The movie added so many blatant scenes of trauma, as if Susanna could not be struggling from internal turmoil, which maybe they included because without the first person narration, we couldn’t be in Susanna’s head to witness the inner monologue.

      1. John Langerman

        The question of change between books and movies is always one of the most interesting questions to ask. The root of this issue is determining what parts of the movie are dramatized for Hollywood vs. what is factually accurate. In the case of “Girl Interrupted” I think that the biggest difference between the two lies in the fact that the movie focuses on the relationships between Susana and others in the ward while the book focuses on the actual illness. More specifically, the book gives insight into what life in a mental institution during the 1960s was like. Readers gain insight into the daily routine of Susanna and how she viewed her own situation. After reading the book, I felt like a understood Susana on a deeper and more personal level. The movie on the other hand focuses on the social side and the friendship between Susanna and Lisa in particular. Through this friendship viewers learn a great deal about the effects of Borderline Personality Disorder and how it affects peers. Furthermore, the disorder doesn’t just affect the person that has it but also those who are around them. In other words, the book allows us to see how insanity affects someone internally and personally while the movie allows us to see how it affects someone externally and socially.

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