Freud's 'Hysterical Girl' speaks out

The Sunday Chew #1

Welcome to the first ever edition of The Sunday Chew! In this new weekly digest, only for subscribers, I will be discussing one bonus item in more depth than I would typically get into in The Seven. It’s rough and experimental, so I would particularly like any feedback you want to share about this first issue.

Today I am bringing to your attention this Op-Doc, Hysterical Girl, a SXSW pick featured by the New York Times on their website. At under 14-minutes, it’s a creative reimagining of Dora (Ida Bauer), Sigmund Freud’s only published case study of a female patient, responding to the discussion of her life and mental health, juxtaposed with Freud‘s own words.

Fundamentally it’s a short and powerful thesis about women's autonomy, medical paternalism and the male gaze. It critiques Freud’s highly problematic interpretation of a teenage girl being sexually assaulted and harassed by an adult man. Once you watch it, you’ll find the central argument to be clearly argued, and by the end self-evident. It’s the application of this idea to the discipline of psychology, the idea of medical paternalism, and the storytelling method, that I find particularly interesting.


I’m by no means an expert on Freud’s work, so I was only superficially familiar with Dora’s case study before watching the film. I still greatly enjoyed watching it, as I generally think modern social and cultural critiques of (old white men’s) work accepted into the canon of knowledge are very important. If you are more familiar with the central material, I’d love to hear your perspective when you watch it!

In terms of style, I find this short interesting because it uses a range of shots, from both stock and popular media, to tell the story next to the fictionalized narrative. These curated shots, of places, of people, through photography and film, add richness and layering to complement Dora/Ida’s piece to camera. The modern clips, especially those documenting highly public sexual harassment and assault cases, presented clearly beside Freud’s and Dora/Ida’s words, makes the critique clear and compelling.

I also think it was a really interesting creative treatment to open with an extended candid of the actress playing Dora/Ida. This doesn’t fit with the rest of the style, but makes it clear upfront that the actress is not her character. She clearly says she’s nervous and it’s her first film, before she launches into the monologue. I can’t quite figure out why this choice was made, or what it brought to my viewing personally. I’m intrigued all the same.

Word of warning - the NYT Op-Docs site is not mobile friendly at all, so I had several failed attempts to watch this on my phone. The subsequent laptop viewing was much less frustrating!