Overwrought and underwritten
This movie portrays the journey of a woman (Olivia de Havilland) regaining her sanity in a mental hospital. It's a scary world to live in, frightening and confusing.
Virginia's viewpoint is portrayed largely in voiceover. She is confused and suspicious of everyone. We have a few segments of special effects to symbolize her mental state, plus flashbacks of formative events in her life. Occasionally, we bobble amongst a few of the other characters, but it doesn't add a lot - perhaps it would have been better to stay with Virginia's perspective throughout, but at least these excursions are not distracting.
I love where an older woman starts dancing on the prized rug in ward 12 (no other ward has a rug), singing "Sweet Georgia Brown". It's a nice touch. Along with the delusional Mrs. Greer, who has to express her superiority at every moment, this film does have a sense of humor to balance the otherwise serious tone.
The dialog continually disappointed me, on-the-nose and expository. Her recovery is well-paced and compelling, largely from de Havilland's performance, but there's something very surfacy about the whole thing. Most of the other characters plainly exist to serve the main plot. Certain scenes and moments are too easy or obvious - the backstory of Virginia and Robert's marriage, Virginia's interactions with her doctor, being interrogated by the cigar-waving Dr. Curtis. We feel the writer's agenda, telling us about conditions of overcrowding and a lack of resources in the state hospital system. The characters talk about the situation like it's new to them - yet they work in the system. Why not show these issues in the action of the film?
For the time, taking on the topic of mental illness was certainly new and progressive, and the film should definitely be praised for that. I imagine audiences then were startled and challenged by what they saw. The Snake Pit just doesn't survive the test of time, but it would not seem so naive and simple if people hadn't started taking on such issues in films like this in the first place.
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