Written by El Mono Santo
I've wanted to see this film since it first came out. What young adult male would pass up those dark, expressive, captivating eyes (Ryder) or that wide smile and the super-sized lips begging to be kissed (Jolie)? But Ryder was so thin and skeletal, I kept having flashbacks of Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta who looked like a starving Ethiopian (minus inflated stomach) or a sexless fetus. I know an emaciated look was important to the film and several of its characters, but it seemed obvious that the lighting crew, make-up artists, and other craftsmen only had to bring out what was (not) already there.
The acting was better than I anticipated and I enjoyed the cast. The characters were fun and our two leading ladies compelling. Although it had nothing that would split your sides, there were quite a few places that tickled the funny bone—including an unintentional bit of cinematic soothsaying at the opening in which Ryder apologetically recollects through interior monologue: “have you ever...stolen something when you had the cash?” And the structure of the film, broken and disjointed, shifting us through various moments of life, pulled us into Ryder's clouded, subjective world very effectively.
Unfortunately, the film wasn't complete—even with a few deleted scenes that should have been included to make better sense of different situations and characters. It seemed more like a series of events we followed which pretty much ended where it began and gave few answers. Since this was adapted from a novel which had no typical plot line structure, perhaps we can be a little forgiving.
It followed the theme of insanity and inability (or refusal) to grasp truth by giving conflicting perspectives. The film concludes with the idea that you should leave one world (the world of rebellion and the pursuit of dreams or fantasies) for the other (the world of control, decision, truth, and judgment), but this is questioned at several points. Maybe it's the doctors who are crazy and the patients sane. And what is freedom? Is it getting out of the institution and back into the world where you do as you are told or allowing yourself to experience life the way you want no matter what anyone else says or thinks? The rebellious and revolutionary make the wrong choices and therefore are mentally ill (yikes!), or perhaps we are all mentally ill to a greater or lesser extent. All these options are presented and none really refuted, clouding the overall message.
This is ultimately a morality tale. It made truth the doubled edged sword--the hinge on which the lives of people swung either to better or worse. The lives of the characters spiral from life to death as they deny or interrupt truth. It is not until they stop running from truth and face it that they break down and have a chance to change for the better. The “moment of truth” comes for Ryder with the death of her friend in which she faces truth and breaks down in the solace of her stalwart mentor. Jolie's moment comes from reading Ryder's diary about how various characters hide from the truth instead of facing it. When the rough and tough chick demands that she be uncovered as well, Ryder obliges and it is almost too much for Jolie to take. But we see in the final scenes that this is a turning point for her as well when she cries and admits the truth of her position to Ryder, saying “I'm not really dead.” So the truth not only saved and set free Ryder, but is on course to save and set free Jolie as well.