I Never Promised You A Rose Garden (1977)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

USA, 1977. , . Screenplay by , , based on the novel by . Cinematography by . Produced by , , . Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Teenager is placed in an asylum following a suicide attempt, having plagued for years with emotional woes that have often taken the form of visions of a mystical indigenous tribe (the film’s most awkward seventies convention) who speak a made-up language that only she understands. She clings to these visions most when experiencing trauma, and trauma is what the hospital has plenty of to offer her, she’s locked up with a group of much older, much more manic patients whose time in this horrible environment has stripped them down to very few humane characteristics, from the mercurial exhibitionist (played by a mesmerizing ), to the paranoid ex-actress who turns dangerously violent on a whim (). Quinlan has analysis sessions with a kindly, thoughtful doctor () who wants to get her to open up about why she tried to kill herself and what significance this imaginary world (whose citizens include and new wave band Oingo Boingo, led by future movie music composer Danny Elfman) has for her, perhaps it’s something that she needs to let go of if she’s ever going to get better.

Much of how this film understands the main character’s mental illness has already dated poorly, most important the fact that the character, according to doctors who later analyzed author Joanne Greenberg’s source novel (written under the pseudonym Hannah Green), is actually suffering from depression and not schizophrenia as assumed here (and as Green was diagnosed in real life). The film’s most outrageous scenes, with group violence that feel like a brilliantly improvised zombie movie, are no surprise given that it is one of the many low-budget, high-concept exploitation flicks produced from the Roger Corman studio after attempts to adapt Green’s book by the likes of Natalie Wood, Mia Farrow and Charlotte Rampling couldn’t get support from more mainstream studios. In some ways, its coming from Corman’s world of grimy violence, excessive nudity and Girls Gone Wild antics bolsters its realism more than more earnest efforts (like the later Girl, Interrupted, which this one prefigures); rather than focusing on touching, emotional breakthroughs, the film has a raw intensity to the way it captures its protagonist’s trauma and, in doing so, engenders that much more sympathy for her. It helps that Quinlan is marvelous in the lead, never trying to be noble but allowing raw pain to exude from her body as her increasingly dire experiences in this true madhouse traumatize her into further regression. , whose Oscar nomination for her brief performance in Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams led to a spate of terrific character parts in the seventies, has some marvelous scenes as a former geometry teacher who has unleashed her inner Linda Blair after being locked away. Look for a very young playing baseball with Clint Howard in the film’s final moments.

Academy Award Nomination: Best Adapted Screenplay

Golden Globe Award Nominations: Best Picture-Drama; Best Actress-Drama (Kathleen Quinlan)

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