This movie is complex and subtle - and it should be. Why? Because it deals with Women, plenty of them, as they were in the 1960s. Adapted from Susannah Kaysen's novel by the same title, it tells the story of Susanna's induction into the women's ward at Claymoore Psychiatric Hospital after she washes down a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of vodka to "stop her headache", her recovery, and her subsequent discharge from there.
The movie shows her to be a young girl at the threshold of adulthood, at a veritable cross roads of her life where she must decide to choose a life for herself from among the many options available. She cannot make a choice however, as she's conflicted, confused, angry and determined to undermine the hospital, its psychologists, its setup and its efforts to help her understand herself. For a while she tags along with the rebellious Lisa (played by Angelina Jolie) and her group of loyalists. In the end, she's forced to accept that she needs help and that she needs to air her thoughts to the professionals in charge of her. She realizes that she'd rather be a part of the supposedly stupid, ignorant world than be confined to any hospital.
The film has two plus points - the realistic depiction of friendships and estrangements, attitudes and mind-sets of young women in the times of Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and excellent performances by all the actors, the most noteworthy among them being Winona Ryder, Whoopi Goldberg (who plays Nurse Valerie) and Angelina Jolie. For Jolie, this movie is her claim to fame as it won her the Oscar, the Golden Globe and the Screen Actor's Guild award for Best Supporting Actress.
The plot is simple and yet the strongest point of this silver screen endeavor. The dialogue is gripping too. All in all, one does walk out of the theatre with a thought or two in one's head.This article was first published on 19 Apr 2000.