6. A Scanner Darkly (2006) Dir. Richard Linklater
A Scanner Darkly was Ryder’s first film after the hiatus she took in 2001 following several court proceedings. The film is based on a science fiction novel written by Philip K. Dick. Ryder played the supposed cocaine addict and dismissive love interest Donna to Keanu Reeve’s under-cover agent Bob.
In the not- too-distant dystopian future, a vast majority of the populace are hooked on a powerful drug called Substance D, and detective Bob has been assigned an undercover work to infiltrate a drug chain to uncover the source of Substance D. Caught in an identity crisis brought on by his addiction to Substance D, Bob struggles to keep his personal and professional identities separate while he tries to unravel who is behind the making and selling of the epidemic drug.
Ryder again shines in her duplicitous role, whilst seemingly a cocaine addict, she is flirty and easy-going, her relaxed body posture and easy smile establishes Donna as slightly unhinged and tragically damaged by her drug abuse. However, Donna is not who she says she is, and is finally revealed to be a head agent, ruthless in her profession yet, by her strained facial expressions and wrought vice, clearly moved by Bob’s consequential loss of identity.
5. Black Swan (2010) Dir. Darren Aronofsky
Ryder had another small role in the hugely successful Black Swan as the scorned and ageing ballerina Beth. Starring alongside protagonists Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, Ryder nonetheless gave a riveting performance as the freshly wounded and clearly bitter jealous ex top ballerina. Her tear-stained face and hateful gaze when turning upon the innocent and fresh looking Portman give Beth a seriously dangerous and threatening edge.
Ryder spits her lines in the face of Portman during the final showdown between the two and Ryder’s control over Beth’s hate and anger sets her up as a formidable foe. Until Portman is guided away by her ballet instructor and Ryder expertly shows Beth is out of control and losing influence by her drunken swaying and flailing arms. Although a brief performance, Ryder’s role in Black Swan is incredibly well done.
4. Edward Scissorhands (1990) Dir. Tim Burton
Told retrospectively, the film opens with an aged Ryder tucking her granddaughter in bed on a snowy evening. When her granddaughter asks for a story, Ryder begins to tell her how a young man was once brought down from the creepy house on the hill by her mother decades ago.
This young man was pale, covered in scars, and most importantly had scissors for hands. His fierce appearance hid a gentle soul and Edward promptly fell in love with Kim who unfortunately was already dating a brutish boy from High School. Kim and Edward began a tender love affair which was unfortunately cut short by false accusations of rape from a jilted housewife.
Ryder portrays Kim as an understanding and gentle teenager, who trusts the kindness of the ferocious looking Edward and the scenes with the couple are some of the most sensitively handled in the whole film. The fact that their innocent and trustworthy romance is believable is a testament to Depp’s and Ryder’s characterisation of two doomed wayward souls delicately reaching out to be understood.
3. Heathers (1988) Dir. Michael Lehmann
Ryder’s third film was the highly controversial Heathers, a dark comedy drama featuring swathes of teenage suicide, murder, and a final bomb plot to blow up a fictional high school. This independent film mocked both the die-hard authorities who either clearly misunderstood the intentions behind the teenage suicides or caused more harm than good by trying too hard to address the wayward teens.
As a damning critique of high school social hierarchy, Heathers is like the underground version of Mean Girls. Ryder stars as Veronica, a quartet of teen harpies intent on each becoming Westburgh’s top dog whist ridiculing the lower minions of the school.
Ryder finds herself drawn to the incorrigible teen sociopath Christian Slater and unwittingly pulled into a string of teen murders. Her panic at the death of the first Heather and disbelief at the following deaths of two footballers make the audience believe that she never intended for anyone to die.
In particular her wide eyes and slack body after the shooting of the footballers screams innocence. Her kindness in befriending a student later in the film, who had a failed suicide attempt, keeps Veronica grounded and likeable despite the terrible acts she commits with Slater.
2. Beetlejuice (1988) Dir. Tim Burton
In her first collaboration with Tim Burton, Ryder played misfit teen Goth Lydia, living with her dismissive parents in a haunted house in Beetlejuice. Unbeknown to her parents (at first), two unfortunate spirits are at their wits end with trying to scare away Lydia’s family.
Having previously died in an unfortunate road accident, the two spirits return to their home to find Lydia and her brusque parents sizing up their house and making a number of outrageous decorative changes. After trying in vain to frighten away Lydia’s family to reclaim their home, they call in the services of the sexually deviant, loud, and otherworldly Beetlejuice (played by the extraordinary Michael Keaton), a dangerous ‘ghost with the most’ who specialises in exorcising the living.
Ryder plays the teenage daughter and only human that can see and communicate with two original home-owners. As the social outcast from her uptight family, she forms a friendship with the two spirits and wishes to help. Far from being frightened of the otherworldly goings-on, Ryder plays Lydia with a sensitivity that portrays she understands the two ghosts’ predicament.
At the film’s climax, Lydia finds herself potentially to be wed to Beetlejuice, and Ryder rocks a wicked red wedding dress, complete with black shiny spiked hair. Complete with mid-air dancing, wicked outfits, and a caring sensitivity Ryder’s portray of Lydia rightly lead to her being recognised for her acting potential.
1.Girl, Interrupted (1999) Dir. James Mangold
Ryder starred in the autobiographical Girl, Interrupted, a memoir written by Susanna Kaysen about a young woman diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and the time she spent at McLean Hospital. In the best performance of her career, Ryder played Susana as the fiercely intelligent 18 year old who, after attempting suicide, commits herself to Claymoore Hospital. She meets a number of other patients living at the hospital for a variety of different reasons.
After meeting the sociopathic Lisa (played by the excellent Angelina Jolie who won the Screen Actors Guild Award, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for this role), she develops a troublesome and at times obsessive friendship with her. Lisa portrays at times an unwavering self-assuredness that Susanna clearly envies, admires, and at times fears.
Ryder’s Susanna is at times belligerent, gentle, and self-damaging but throughout completely believable as she struggles towards understanding what it means to have an ever-changing identity. Ryder uses these small glances, and her stooped body frame to reveal how vulnerable the tiny Susanna is against the force that is Lisa and the crushing unfair world. B
By the film’s end Ryder portrays Susanna’s progression from a confused beaten-down teen to a nervous yet changed adult, who would rather tackle the daunting outside world than staying with Lisa.
Author Bio: Cassice Last is currently studying for a Masters degree in Film Studies at the University of St Andrews. She spends most of her time watching or writing about films and the rest hiking and cycling.