Full version Girl Interrupted Analysis

Girl Interrupted Analysis

This print version free essay Girl Interrupted Analysis.

Category: Psychology

Autor: reviewessays 09 February 2011

Words: 1848 | Pages: 8

Girl, Interrupted (1999) directed by James Mangold is largely based on a semi- autobiographical book by the same title. The movie chronicles eighteen year old Susanna Kaysen’s experiences surrounding her stay at a mental institution. It is 1967, a time of social change and unrest. Susanna makes a half-heart attempt at suicide, ingesting a bottle of aspirin and chasing the pills with a bottle of vodka. She is taken to the emergency room, her stomach is pumped and she survives. Afterwards she meets with a psychologist who explores her more recent feelings and experiences. The psychologist concludes, with her parents assent, that she would benefit from a stay at Claymore, a private mental institution. The next year and nine months forever alter her life. When Susana arrives at Claymore, she is immediately introduced to a completely different lifestyle. Her daily schedule comes to include regularly conducted “checks”, sessions with a psychiatrist, and medication. To an outsider the patients seem to individually represent the stereotypical persons one would expect to find in an institution. Susanna’s roommate, Georgina, is a pathological liar. Polly, nicknamed “Torch”, had, as a girl, poured a flammable substance on herself and set herself on fire. Daisy has an eating disorder, an unhealthy, very sexual, relationship with her father and wishes to almost replace her mother in some circumstances. Janet has anorexia and has become addicted to laxatives. Cynthia is a lesbian. Lisa, whom Susanna comes to befriend and at one point seeks to imitate, is a psychopath. To Susanna these girls come to be her friends, support system and alternative, temporary family. Susanna is eventually deemed cured, no longer a threat to herself or others, and allowed to leave. Her stay had given her a better understand of others, altered her perceptions of what is and isn’t “crazy” and allowed for a sense of calmness and security to pervade her life.

In the movie, the diagnosis given to the main character, Susanna Kaysen is borderline personality disorder. I agree with this diagnosis because of the symptoms mentioned and

displayed by the character.

Borderline personality disorder requires that an individual have “a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts”.(2) Susanna’s parents are seemingly loving and caring individuals, yet at times they can be cold and selfish causing Susanna to withdraw from them. It becomes evident from a flashback to her high school graduation that she was neither popular nor had any close friends to speak of. She, more then likely, was friendly enough with a varying small number of individuals to survive. At the start of her stay at Claymore she befriends a number of fellow patients and proceeds to grow closer to some, while simultaneously and temporarily growing more distant with others. Susanna’s self image was not in a dire state, neither was it elevated, rather it fluctuated dependant on her present company and circumstances. Susanna impulsively decides to attempt suicide, have intercourse with the father of one of the girls in her high school class, and make an escape attempt from Claymore with Lisa.

A diagnosis of borderline personality disorder must be based upon five or more characteristics from a specific list. Susanna meets five of those criteria.

Susanna, once admitted to Claymore, becomes attracted to Lisa’s carefree, fearless, and disobedient attitude. Lisa has been previously institutionalized numerous times, all without much success. She has been known to escape and return to the same deviant lifestyle she had led outside of the institution. Lisa’s influence over Susanna’s thoughts and behaviors grows to an extreme at the start of their friendship and comes to resemble idolization on Susanna’s part. Lisa’s influence over Susanna starts to waver and they experience a falling out as a result of Susanna’s efforts in her sessions with her psychologist. At the end of the movie the two girls make peace and Susanna leaves wanting an eventual full recovery for Lisa. This serves as the best example of “a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation”.(2)

A subpart of this particular criterion is “markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self”.(2) Susanna self image is not only unstable, but also largely negative. She alternates from moments of self acceptance and goal orientation to times of a general depression and a pervading sense of confusion. When asked by her high school guidance councilor what she wishes to do with her life, Susanna replies with a high degree of certainty that she wishes to be a writer and not a housewife like her mother, yet at the same time she has no interest in college and has no actual plan for achieving her goal.

Susanna can be seen, as was popular and socially acceptable at the time, smoking cigarettes throughout the entire movie. She can also be seen experimenting with marijuana and drinking social. More significantly she can be seen engaging in casual sex with a number of different partners. Susanna has relations with a professor who was also the father of one of her high school classmates. She can be seen having casual sex with a boy that she meets and befriends at a party and then again when he comes to visit her at the institution. She develops feelings for one of the security guards working in the woman’s ward in the institution and they too have an encounter. When she and Lisa escape from Claymore they meet a group of individuals traveling together. Susanna and Lisa both engage in acts of frivolous sex. These behaviors of Susanna’s would qualify as being impulsive “in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging”. (2)

The diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorder states that “recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior”(2) may be present. Susanna was unhappy enough with the way her life was proceeding to attempt suicide, yet not discontent enough to ensure her death. She ingested aspirin and alcohol, yet proceeded then to go to a supermarket, a public place, nearly guaranteeing that she would be taken to a hospital at the first sign of any physical effects. She did not make any suicidal threats, or self-mutilate.

Experiencing “chronic feelings of emptiness”(2) is also a part of borderline personality disorder. Susanna feels worthless at certain times in the movie one of those times being when her parents come to visit her at the institution and in talking to her psychologist they seem to focus not on her emotional state or progress, but rather on themselves and what their friends will think of Susanna’s extended stay. Another time Susanna felt purposeless was when her classmate’s mother bragged about her daughter’s achievements and her own mother, noticeable had little to say about Susanna.

Susanna does not experience “transient, stress-related paranoid ideation”, but has incidences of “severe dissociative symptoms”.(2) She experiences moments of confusion and disorientation where she is uncertain of where she is and feels uncomfortable in her own body. Susanna also seems to have much diminished or no emotional reactions to certain events that others would react to more definitively.

Conditions included on the list that are not exhibited by Susanna are “frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment”, “affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood”, and “inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger”.(2)

Susanna’s diagnosis would include depression on Axis 1 as a disorder coexisting with borderline personality disorder with transient sensory and perception hallucinations on Axis 2. There are no physical diseases mentioned in the movie, therefore Axis 3 would not include anything. On Axis 4 the distant and preoccupied parents as well school and social stressors may be listed. On Axis 5 Susanna’s functioning should be somewhere between a 41 and 50 because her symptoms are severe enough for her to attempt suicide, but are limited to specific areas.(3)

No specific etiological factors are mentioned in the movie, but some possibly factors could include the early childhood perceptions of hostility or physical violence directed at the individual. Early life experiences of traumatic attachment experiences and unhealthy attachments have also been pointed to as possible factors. Some research has found that negative family environments in childhood, including sexual or physical abuse, and family histories of substance abuse and/or mood disorders increase the likelihood of an individual’s development of borderline personality disorder.(4)

Susanna met with a psychologist prior to her admittance to Claymore. They discussed her suicide attempt and the events and feelings she experienced leading up to the event. It is the first time that she meets with any mental health professional and serves to outline her emotional state. Time in her schedule at the institution is devoted to sessions with a psychologist. They discuss her perceptions of her past and present experiences identifying and exploring any inaccuracies. Suggestions are made as to how she might change her dysfunctional thoughts and actions. She is also required to meet with a psychiatrist who prescribes her medication and monitors her progress. Shock treatment is mentioned, but not administered as it is deemed unnecessary at the time. Susanna’s progress is gradual and largely due to the dual assault of cognitive behavioral therapy and drug therapy. There are times when relapse seems imminent, but is ultimately avoided. She is eventually released, better equipped to cope with any future problems she may face.

Susanna’s mental disorder is recognized due to the setting that she is in. In once scene in the movie the group of girls break into their mutual psychiatrists’ office in order to read though her notes on them and explore their diagnoses in the DSM. After the definition of borderline personality is read aloud, Lisa comments “that’s everyone”(1) meaning that the criteria of the disorder could be applied to many individuals due to the fact that they seem to be so prevalent and inconsequential.

The movie’s portrayal of Susanna and borderline personality disorder is rather accurate. A diagnosis of the character’s disorder could easily be reached based on the symptoms she displays. The movie included many patients with common mental disorders in an attempt to make the situation more realistic and also more relatable, to not portray these individuals as scary or freakish, and to not turn off the audience. The film does have its happier moment’s including group outings and socializing, as well as the last scene in which Susanna displays her hope for Lisa’s eventual recovery and herself leaves the institution.


(1) Girl, Interrupted. James Mangold. Columbia Pictures. 1999.

(2) Borderline Personality Disorder. 2003. <http://www.psychologynet.org/bpd.html>

(3) Diagnosis of mental disorders. Lundbeck Institute.


(4) Sue, D., Sue, D.W., Sue, S. Understand Abnormal Behavior. Houghton Mifflin Company. 2003. (pages