Eye For Film >> Movies >> Hysterical Girl (2020) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
In 1900, Sigmund Freud wrote his only case study of a female patient, then 17-year-old Ida Bauer, whom he referred to only as 'Dora'. Though praised by some of his contemporaries, it's a study which has attracted intense criticism since, especially from feminist scholars. Kate Novack's documentary looks at it through the lens of the #MeToo movement, interjecting passages of the story told from Dora's point of view and presenting a scenario which most women will find easy to believe alongside Freud's contorted endeavours to make t fit his pre-existing beliefs.
It's a story which many viewers will find troubling. 'Dora' was 14 when she first got the impression that a family friend was making sexual advances towards her. Her account describes a three year process of grooming and attempts to isolate her. Her consequent anger and unhappiness led to her father, who disbelieved her account, deciding that she needed the famous psychoanalyst's help. Freud, in his turn, tried to convince her that a healthy girl her age would be flattered by the sexual attentions of an older man and told her she was suffering simply because she refused to accept her own desire. Dora left abruptly, surprising him, and later returned with confessions which proved she had been right. Novack's concern, however, is not with this evidence so much as with the refusal to take the girl's testimony at face value to begin with.
All the more painful for its plainness, Dora's account carries additional weight because of all the other people whose stories it tells, the centuries of disbelief it attests to. It looks forwards in time as well as backwards, using news footage and film clips to illustrate how Freud's ideas continued to affect the public consciousness, from heroines who swoon into an obnoxious hero's arms after initially resisting him, to more directly disturbing real life events. What is most striking here is not the rejection of individual women's assertions in themselves, but the sheer scale of the investment in disbelief, the trouble taken to construct a different narrative.
Underlying this is a recognition that any such narrative flies in the face of attempts to resolve uncertainty by looking for logical answers or drawing conclusions from evidence. They are, by their nature, unreasonable; yet it is Dora, like so many girls and women before her, who is characterised as unreliable, because of her possession of a uterus. Novack situates her words in the context of archive images and landscapes, solid, chilly, unadorned. This plays its own psychological trick, inclining viewers to see Dora as more reliable, but this is necessary only as an antidote to established prejudice. It is her words themselves that make the facts clear. After more than a century, we ought to be ready to listen.Reviewed on: 11 Feb 2021