Wednesday, November 12, 2008

“Girl, Interrupted” as an illustration of Nietzschean philosophy

Bad girl Angelina Jolie in movie "Girl Interrupted"
Winona Ryder looking concerned in movie "Girl Interrupted"
The movie Girl, Interrupted starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie is about the psychological confusions and troubles of a young woman in the whirlwind of the rapidly changing society of the 60s. The movie touches on important themes such as sanity versus insanity and a growing sense of feminism.

The movie is directed by James Mangold, who has had quite a good share of films over the past two decades, notably the psychological thriller Identity and the Johnny Cash biography Walk the Line. However, this movie has been criticized because its protagonist Susanna Kaysen, diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, lacks willpower and direction and seems more like a spectator than an actual character in the movie. This criticism is somewhat valid since the person both on- and off-screen that robs her claim for attention is the “sociopath” Lisa Rowe, played brilliantly by a young and deliciously evil Angelina Jolie.

That's also where the movie's strength lies, which is slightly undermined by what seems to me an anticlimactic and implausible ending. Lisa is the ultimate rebel. She is a “lifer” as she says but her strengths are her cleverness and her brutal honesty. She controls and manipulates all the other girls in the ward, including some of the nurses, and she manages to escape from the asylum from time to time, however always ending up back there.

To me, she is the prototype not only of a strong woman in an oppressed and coy society but also as a Nietzschean symbol of strength and willpower. First of all, she does not abide by the rules set by others, whether it is society or the mental institute. That's all “slave morality” to her and she, as a “noble” à la Nietzsche creates her own rules and morality. There is a scene where she screams that all the others are merely powerless victims and that she is the only one who is really free.

In fact, she uses her physical beauty and sexual magnetism to obtain what she wants. She gives advice to the other patients including sexual advice to some of the nurses. And she gives everyone their daily dose of truth, regardless of whether they can handle it or not.

It is true that she comes off as cold-hearted and unemotional, especially when she “pushes the buttons” of an ex-patient Daisy, who then commits suicide. At the sight of Daisy's hanging corpse, Lisa simply remarks “What an idiot” and that she had it coming anyhow; she was only waiting for an excuse and all Lisa did was to give her that excuse by confronting her with the unwanted truth. Then she simply grabs into the pocket of a dead and dangling Daisy and takes her money.

I think Nietzsche would have indeed liked her. She is not hindered by compassion or pity; she is above the “common rabble.” She is, as she states herself, the only really free person, free of hypocrisy or social contrivance, and that's why she is kept imprisoned because society cannot handle her. 

Like her male counterpart, R. P. McMurphy from One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, electro-shocks and threats do not stop her from being who she is or her way of thinking. The fools and victims are all the others who label her as a sociopath because deep inside, they are all afraid of her, both as a dangerous, sexually liberated woman and as an even more dangerous embodiment of a controversial philosophy.


Kimmy said...

This was a fantastic read. Angelina's character was as real as you can get. The end when she broke down, she came to a realization that she has a choice to express herself differently. I was inspired that the movie was made to teach girls that there is always choice.

Me-Me King said...

I am very familiar with this movie and I agree with have a choice.

I enjoyed reading your perspective.

Clarisse Teagen said...

That was a very good movie. really

Delighted Scribbler said...

Great commentary, Arash!