Borderline Sane 

*Girl, Interrupted (R)
Columbia Pictures

How crazy were you as a teenager? Did you have unstable relationships? Chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness? Severe mood swings? If so, you might have just been a normal teenager. On the other hand, you might have been exhibiting what the American Psychological Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV lists as "borderline personality disorder." How would you know?

This is the dilemma that faced Suzanna Kaysen in the late 1960s. Kaysen spent almost two years in a mental institution after a halfhearted suicide attempt at age 18. Her powerful 1993 autobiography, Girl, Interrupted, detailed her attempts to understand the vague "borderline personality disorder" diagnosis and to find a metaphor for her illness that would help explain how she lost those two years.

The film Girl, Interrupted stays relatively true to the autobiography and is notable for several very fine performances. Winona Ryder as Suzanna Kaysen uses her enormous brown-black eyes to powerful effect, giving quiet insight into the fine balance between madness and sanity. She, and the screenwriters, resists making Suzanna a thoroughly lovable figure, alternating her understandable confusion and vulnerability with downright spoiled-girl obnoxiousness. Whoopi Goldberg plays the long-suffering Nurse Valerie with subtlety and charm, and Angelina Jolie uses every ounce of her obvious magnetism to underscore the appeal of the gorgeous sociopath, Lisa, who becomes Suzanna's best friend.

The film occasionally makes a misstep when it searches for dramatic situations in place of the more metaphorical exploration Kaysen undertook in her autobiography. As in most Hollywood films, there must be a showdown between the good guys and the bad, and the writers reached rather too far in Girl, Interrupted to set Suzanna against Lisa at the 11th hour.

Such plot contrivances aside, however, Girl, Interrupted is a fine, quiet film that examines the lines between madness and sanity, and how the causes and definitions of insanity may change with the times. If you lived through the '60s, if you lived through adolescence, you may have come to the same conclusion: The boundary between sanity and madness is sometimes uncomfortably vague.


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