Of all Sigmund Freud’s major case histories, only one examined a woman: Dora: An Analysis Of A Case Of Hysteria. In Hysterical Girl, Kate Novak’s stunning documentary short, a reimagined Dora contrasts her version of the story with Freud’s own words.
Using these words and archive footage of Freud, Hysterical Girl considers the legacy of his study. The film also casts actor, Tommy Vines, to play Dora herself. Sitting on a leather couch, she stares into the camera. “It started with my suicide note,” she says. “No, it was before that.”
What follows is a dialogue across time. After Freud’s analysis of Dora, we hear her side of the story. It is devastating to watch Dora consider Freud’s conclusions - reactions we have come to know from the stories of many (too many) survivors of sexual abuse. Dora is hysterical, we are told. She is jealous. She is a woman scorned. She desired, even encouraged the attack. She cannot be believed. Dora is to blame.
Novak and her editor Steven Ross worked with creative studio, BigStar, to visualise these reactions and emphasise their lasting impact. The film intercuts a series of clips - from art, film, news footage, advertisements and US senate hearings. The cumulative effect of these moments is incredibly powerful.
Meanwhile, testimony from the likes of Christine Blasey Ford and Anita Hill add depth to this devastating picture of how society has treated women. It is heartbreaking to watch their testimony. However, Hysterical Girl is not interested in our pity.
Dora’s voice joins theirs (and others) in a breathtaking chorus of hope, strength and freedom (reflected in beautiful animated watercolours from artists Carol Cai and Jane Wu). By travelling through time, this reimagined Dora reclaims her story, her name and her power.
Hysterical Girl features on the 2021 Oscar shortlist for best documentary short subject. You can watch Kate Novak’s film via Projecter.tv.