Directed by Oya Gökşin Babaoğlu | Reviewed by Adva Reichman
Counting down is a short film about bravery. What begins as a deep-rooted fear of being
catalogued like the patients whose care Olivia is entrusted with, turns into the realization and the willingness to admit that her life’s work needs change, and that the methods she spent years learning, are in-fact damaging.
The film is inspired by the real stories of Dorothea Dix – a leading mental health reformer, Helen Boyle – Brighton’s first female general practitioner and president of the royal medico- psychological association, and Dr. John Galt – a physician who worked in an insane asylum and introduced talk therapy and moral management therapy.
Having seven days until her new job as the head doctor of the city’s asylum begins, Olivia
practices a different technique every day in the hopes of curing herself from arithmomania – a form of OCD where sufferers have a strong urge to count. The techniques are brutal and include force feeding, lobotomy and altering bone structure amongst others. Her elected procedures show the viewer how little was actually known about mental illness, and how patients were experimented on using ruthless methods. This time, Olivia acts as her own doctor and experiments on herself, probably from the fear of having others do it if her illness becomes public. All the means she displays are designed to treat the body and through that achieve peace of mind. Treating the mind itself and going deep into her psychology isn’t on her list.
After a week-long experiment, in which she tries everything she was taught and later preached, she concludes these treatments only made her worse. Now, she faces a choice: tell the truth or continue hiding her illness and treat patients using techniques that only deteriorated her mental being.
The acting, done by the talented KateLynn Newberry, was on point and the set really sold the 1800’s world. The music competed with the dialogue a few times, but for the most part helped enhance the drama. The cinematography, done by Ben Rhodes, was beautiful and portrayed the fear and desperation Olivia faced during these difficult days. The dramatic colors and close ups brought us into her mind and soul.
In a time where we finally shine a bigger light on mental illness and the importance of taking care of ourselves, the talented writer/director Oya Babaoğlu strengthens this notion, asks us to demand better care, and reminds us that speaking up about our well-being is important.
This is a film about one woman who is desperate to fix herself and uses her esteem knowledge to do so, but through that journey learns a bitter truth, and courageously speaks up about it. I wished the filmmaker would have continued the film and tracked Olivia as she faced the medical world and demanded change, but hopefully a feature version is in the works. This story deserves one.
Adva Reichman is an Israeli writer-director based in Los Angeles; her latest film, Something to Live For deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was screened at prestigious festivals. While in Israel, she worked in the Israeli news and on documentaries that revolved around major terror attacks and kidnappings that took place in Israel during the 70’s and 80’s. She is a graduate of the TV & Film Production MFA program at USC School of Cinematic Arts.