I’ve been fascinated with the character of Lisa in ‘Girl, Interrupted’ since the first time I saw the film last year. The movie, based on the memoir, documents Susanna Kaysen’s (Winona Ryder) struggle in a mental institution after an attempted suicide. Lisa, played by Angelina Jolie, is an extremely dominant figure and the deuteragonist of the film. She is intoxicated by power and thrives off the attention and her destruction of others. She gains a sort of respect from the other girls and the wardens – a respect through fear. Manipulating and picking at others’ flaws, it is obvious that this woman intends to cause damage.As one fellow patient rightly points out, “Lisa thinks she’s hot shit because she’s a sociopath”.These qualities, however, lead to her eventual downfall.
From the moment Lisa appears on screen the entire dynamic of the film changes; a once, unnaturally pleasant and welcoming mental institution shifts to what one would expect of such a place.
Intense fear and confusion take over the scene, and Lisa’s presence seems to take control before she even sets foot in the building. When she enters, escorted by police, she treats the institution like a stage, fully cementing the idea of her notoriety. The film shows her power visually; Lisa confidently struts into corridor, with her head held high, shouting “good to be home!” She is visibly taller than everybody else, making it easy for her to assert power as she towers over others. In her second scene, Lisa appears to shower everyone with attention, and in return she gains adoring stares. The rest of the patients look up to her and even admire her. It is at this point that viewers see her intoxication of power in action in her act of befriending Susanna. She traps Susanna, sitting directly in front of her and asks for a cigarette, which Susanna has no choice but to give. Lisa preys on the new girl and uses her as a replacement for her late best friend, almost like a child picking out a new toy.
Lisa is the leader of the pack. The esteem she gains from the others fuels her intoxication and enables her to remain on top. On a rare outing to an ice cream parlour, she remains at the head of the group at all times, using her sexuality to intimidate and manipulate the ice cream server as the others react with reverence. Her thirst for attention is demonstrated throughout this scene, as she causes drama whilst standing up for Susanna. She highlights the fact that she is known to other people as a ‘crazy’ person and indulges in it. She feeds off this notion, holding ‘crazy’ as a medal that separates her from other ‘regular’ people, and uses it to assert authority and intimidation. As long as people continue to idolise her, and as long as she is considered ‘crazy’, Lisa – and her intoxication – will grow like an Oleander; a beautifully enticing flower that becomes more poisonous as the days go by.
The danger of her condition is evident to viewers of the film by observing her one on one relationship with others. Lisa “pushes buttons” and digs deeper and deeper into peoples flaws or illnesses with malice. She casts aside Susanna’s diagnosis as nothing to worry about, stating that everyone is like that. She bullies the anorexic dancer, calling her “fatso”, hitting right where it is most sensitive. But it is her relationship with Daisy that proves to be the most venomous as she continually cuts deeper and deeper, taunting her mentally about her condition and her inability to lead a normal life. Lisa pushes her so far and neglects the fact that Daisy is human. Her torment eventually ends in Daisy taking her own life, to which she responds flippantly, emphasising a trait of her sociopathy. This event, however, marks the transition in Lisa’s dominance. From here on her intoxication is taken to pieces by Susanna.
There is a cyclical nature to the film. Once again, Lisa arrives with police escort, but instead of the previously confident woman, striding through her corridors of her home, she is hunched over and notably much weaker. She kicks up no fuss and blends into the dull grey walls of the ward. This appears to be the ultimate fall of a woman- alone and destroyed. However, Lisa was so high on power that her fall was imminent, and it would be momentous. She attempts to exert one final bit of power over Susanna, stealing her diary and turning the girls against her. It becomes obvious that her friendship was fake and simply an act to maintain her control over the girls without having someone to challenge it. Her final struggle for power is in vein. Susanna exposes Lisa’s fears and flaws, poignantly shouting “You’re dead already”, to which Lisa is stunned. The genuine anguish that follows perhaps offers the idea that Lisa was not a real sociopath and was instead simply power obsessed. She is no longer ‘crazy’, nor is she an idol. Her weakness has been exposed to her followers which crushes her. Lisa was simply a helpless girl who became her own illness and learned to love it. And inevitably, this illness destroyed her.