Soaked, little, and naked is how the viewer finds Susanna in the middle of Girl, Interrupted. Or rather, soaked, little, naked, and hysterical. A state James Mangold utilizes to further illustrate his message. The film serves as a vehicle for Mangold to discuss madness and the society it exists within. Valerie, the asylum’s registered nurse, throws Susanna, the film’s suicidal protagonist, into a tub filled with water in order to snap Susanna out of her depressed state. Susanna lashes out at Valerie with every hurtful vulgarity she has within her.
Despite this, Valerie remains calm and collected. In this interaction between Susanna and Valerie, madness is portrayed in its most basic form; it is an ongoing battle between the individual and the environment surrounding it. The individual is a victim of his environment, overwhelmed into regurgitating the detritus surrounding him that are readily filtered and suppressed by those deemed sane by society. Mangold artfully designs the scene’s exchange to mark Susanna as the embodiment of madness.
Her madness is clearly seen through the downcast camera angle the audience must see her through. She has no power or control over anyone, especially not herself. Even the audience, who is unable to affect anything in the plot of the film, has more power than Susanna. Susanna is shapeless in her white smock, despite being submerged in water. That and her boyish haircut give her a childlike appearance. The tantrum that ensues, full of many expletives, splashing, and swaying, cannot be taken seriously by either Valerie or the audience.
At no other point in this film does the audience see the aforementioned behavior, marking this scene as one that defines the ability madness has to force itself on individuals. Moreover, the image of Susanna in a tub fully dressed conveys this point even further. Only a thin cloth protects her, under which it evident she is naked. Susanna is vulnerable to the elements around her. She is as vulnerable to societal waste as she is the water that is seeping through her white smock. While others would enter the water in a bathing suit, she is not prepared to do so.
Her sponge like mind is not equipped with the necessary systems of filtration that sane people have within them. The film works to distinguish between those who are mad and those who are not, where sanity’s qualifying requirement is being able to remain unaffected by its surroundings. As the scene unfolds, the perspective does not remain on Susanna, but shifts to Valerie. Valerie is a black woman. If anyone should be feeling the pressures of an ugly society, it would be her, but this is not the case.
Neverless it is from her perspective, the filmmaker chooses to show the stark contrast between the sane and insane. Traditionally, a conversation requires two people, however this conversation is heavily one sided. Valerie responds to Susanna’s barrage of assaults with a reserved expression on her face. She is empowered by her assertion that Susanna is mad and she is not. Her uniform exemplifies her power, while Susanna’s smock diminishes hers. Valerie’s remains contained even when Susanna seeks to uproot her power by sneering at her with, “But you’s ain’t no doctor, Miss Valerie.
You’s just a little black nursemaid. ” The camera tilts up to give her the respect she deserves, despite Susanna’s foiled attempts at stripping it away. The extent of the distinction, at its simplest, is in Valerie’s ability to put Susanna in the tub. As Susanna bobs in front of Valerie, struggling to soak up the stimulus from her society, Valerie has been afforded the opportunity to watch. The asylum helps disturbed individuals by blocking out society’s misgivings through control. It is a bleak representation of the world surrounding it.
The room in which the scene takes place is bare and white, void of the bias that the outside world inherently contains. Supposing madness is a direct representation of a setting, a blank room would be the perfect for facilitating treatment. In theory, Susanna would be purged of negativity and rejuvenated in the asylum, however one’s environment is not solely composed of materials. The people within the environment are just as influential. Susanna is able to absorb and imitate the misgivings of the other patients within the asylum. At one point, she breaks into song singing, “Oh lordy, pick a bale of cotton.
Oh, lordy pick a bale of hay. ” The song emphasizes a racist caricature of African American slaves that was once a form of entertainment in American culture. It, like slavery, is a piece of the society that Americans tactfully choose to forget. Those afflicted with madness do not have this tact. In fact, the majority of the behaviors Susanna displays in this scene are not her own. The scene serves as a direct parallel to Susanna’s entrance into the asylum. Jane, an anorexic ballerina, sang the same song, used the same crass language, and wore the same dress. Then, Susanna responded to such behaviors with shock.
Months later, her shock has disappeared and she is resorting to the same behavior, not of her own free will, but because she is attuned to her setting and the players within it. Furthermore, the camera offers no sympathy at all to Susanna in this scene. Aside from the tilted angle, she is portrayed in only one frame with a medium shot in which her setting could be revealed. Mangold’s reasoning for limiting this lens is clear when the frame is overlaid with the dialogue in that shot. After Valerie mentions Lisa, Susanna screams, “You banish her for singing to Polly. We were trying to help her. This is an argument that is surprisingly reasonable for her to make.
Mangold frames this part of the scene so the audience focuses on the dialogue here and not Susanna’s hysterical state. Her words take precedence as her body fades into the background. It is not a coincidence that the only instance that Susanna does not seem completely disturbed is when plastered against the backdrop of the institution’s cold walls around her. It forces the audience to redirect their suppositions about the source of the patients’ madness away from the patients and onto the stark environment they are placed in.
As illustrated, Susanna is a sopping wet sponge. She is unable to keep the waste of her society from spilling out of her. The helplessness of her situation is made apparent when juxtaposed with Valerie, who is sane, and her surroundings, which are filled with the behaviors that are leaking out of her. From this, Girl, Interrupted displays madness as a deficiency in the ability of an individual to absorb the dirty water present in their society; these individuals recycle it, instead of holding it inside of them