Undiagnosed Bodies

The most efficient images in Sille Storihle’s short film on teenage girls with ADHD is the intimate descriptions of restless heads, hands and feet.

Sille Storihle, Everything becomes so much more, 2018. Film still.

Rebecca looks like the archetypical young rebel: she has dyed her hair red, wears military boots, writes songs and plays the guitar. “I like that I’m all hyper […] when you like something, you don’t just like it a little,” she says at the opening of Sille Storihle’s short film Everything becomes so much more, shown at Kunsthall Oslo. Through fragmented scenes from the everyday lives of Rebecca, Martine and Amie – all in their late teens – the film seeks to provide insight into what it is like to live with the physical restlessness and flickering attention span caused by ADHD.

In the film, brief interview sequences and monologues are intercut with close-ups of heads, hands and feet restlessly twining. In a scene of Amie watching the sit-com Friends on her laptop, the camera dwells on her ceaselessly moving feet. In another of Rebecca waiting for the train, the camera focuses on the rhythmic stomping of boots. These close-ups contribute to a sense of energetic potential even if the body is not always entirely co-operative. At the same time the film does not let the diagnosis define its main protagonists – we are told that Martine likes to draw, is interested in anime and plays the online game Final Fantasy XIV. Rebecca sings, writes songs and plays the guitar. One weakness in the overall portrayal of the girls is the fact that Amie gets less screen time than the other two, making her personalty and identity less distinctly felt.

Sille Storihle, Everything becomes so much more, 2018. Film still.

Unlike well-known mainstream documentaries about teens – such as Hanne Myren’s Jenter (2007) or Margreth Olin’s Ungdommens råskap (2004) – Everything becomes so much more feels refreshingly empathetic. Here, the main protagonists are not depicted as being at odds with society because it’s difficult to be a teen. Nor are the girls presented as enigmas that need decoding or as particularly transgressive. Quite the contrary; the reflections on life with ADHD are often interspersed with glimpses of quite undramatic teaching situations and the leisure pursuits of everyday life.

One might object that the film could benefit from a more general discussion of the issues of medication and the school system, and of how the diagnosis of ADHD arose and became so widespread. But it is precisely by leaving out such societal perspectives that the film gets its main critical point across: behind any diagnosis you will find a wealth of bodies, each meeting the world in its own way. A drawback of this approach is the fact that some interesting statements are just left hanging in the air. For example, Rebecca states that she achieves more in her dreams than in real life, but this is not unpacked any further.

The absence of expert statements also seems to be founded in ideology and politics. Arriving at a diagnosis is by definition to assign a body within a particular category on the basis of a number of symptoms. This entails the risk that individuals may find themselves defined by that diagnosis. When Martine says that the world sees her as lazy, this is reminiscent of how the media are fond of speaking of the growing prevalence of ADHD diagnoses as a social issue. The focus of Everything becomes so much more rests on subjective experience: Storihle asks us to forget about the criteria of the diagnosis for while, seeking instead to understand a set of challenges that we do not necessarily face ourselves.

Sille Storihle, Everything becomes so much more, 2018. Film still.