Hysteria is just your average romantic comedy about a man, his vibrator and several hundred women.
Loosely based on real events, Hysteria is a film that tells the story of the invention of the first vibrator for women amidst the height of Victorian prudishness. I’ve been wanting to see the movie ever since it headlined at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and I finally got to watch it a few nights ago.
Hysteria follows Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a young doctor who gets a job working with Dr. Dalrymple, an established physician who specializes in the treatment of “Female Hysteria” – an umbrella term that seems to cover a ridiculous plethora of ailments affecting women of the time. Symptoms include nervousness, moodiness, insomnia, exhaustion, depression, cramps, sexual desire, lack of sexual desire, irritability, and a “tendency to cause trouble”. Like other medical practitioners of the time, Dr Dalrymple’s treats Hysteria through “genital massage” to create “paroxysmal convulsions” – in other words, orgasms. Dashingly handsome Mortimer becomes quite the skilled “masseuse” and soon develops an extensive female following. Unfortunately though, getting women off for the sake of medical science also comes with a price: a nasty case of carpal tunnel syndrome. To give his aching fingers a break, Mortimer devises an electric-mechanical vibrator (think the original ancestor of The Hitachi Magic Wand) to do the job for him. The first sex toys for women are born & hilarity ensues!
Although this film is a comedy, you learn some very disturbing facts about medical science, the treatment of “Hysteria” and the position of women within Victorian society. The film discusses how “Female Hysteria” was thought to be caused by having an enlarged uterus and in extreme cases when other treatments had failed, women were subjected to Hysterectomies. You quickly figure out that “Hysteria” was merely a catch-all term used to describe any woman who wasn’t happy with the rigid confines of Victorian society. Can you imagine being forced to get a Hysterectomy just because your behavior, emotions and thoughts didn’t fit within the box that society had built for you? That’s some scary shit. What’s even more scary is that “Female Hysteria” was still used as a medical diagnosis until 1952.
Shudder inducing historical facts aside, Hysteria is a comedy that is full of witty puns, double entendres and Victorian manners. Maggie Gyllenhaal is delightful as Charlotte, the daughter of Dr. Dalrymple, a premodern feminist who catches Dr. Mortimer’s attention when she calls out his treatment for what it really is: glorified finger banging. Charlotte is smart, outspoken, independent and full of sass – all characteristics that make her an outcast amongst her uptight, upper crust peers and the best part of the movie.
A cute guy, a sassy girl, sex toys, witty jokes and a little bit of feminism thrown in for good measure – what’s not to like?! Although I really wanted to love this movie, there was something about it that just rubbed me the wrong way (pardon the pun.) Last night it finally dawned on me what bothered me about Hysteria. This is film directed by a woman, about the birth of an adult toy designed for specifically for a woman’s pleasure, yet it’s told completely from a man’s perspective. Dr. Granville is cute, but who cares? Charlotte is by far the most interesting part of the film and I would have enjoyed the story more if it had been told through her eyes. What was it like to be a feminist in the 1890’s? What made her break away from her peers? Heck, I would have liked to have learned more about any of the female characters in the movie. What were the circumstances in their lives that drove them to “Hysteria”? We only see them getting off, but did their lives change after they got their hands on their first vibrator? I was disappointed when none of these issues were addressed in the film. I wanted to see the women armed with their new sense of empowerment, walk off into the sunset and never look back. Instead, the film ended the way most Hollywood movies do: with a happy union between a man and a woman.
Although Hysteria wasn’t the movie I expected, or was hoping for, I still enjoyed watching it. They managed to blend two genres that I don’t usually enjoy – rom-coms and period pieces – and turn it into a movie that was witty and entertaining – a perfect movie to watch if you want to see a rom-com that doesn’t suck.
Most of all, the movie left me with a feeling of gratitude. Although society still has a long way to go, I am grateful that I live in a time and place where I can openly express my sexuality, where I’m not at risk of being diagnosed with an arbitrary medical condition just because I am different, and where I can buy gorgeous, body safe sex toys like the Lelo Insignia Soraya, The Jopen Vanity 3 or the We-Vibe 3 that don’t look like alien probes ready to electrocute my lady parts….and that right there, is something to celebrate.
Has anyone else seen this movie? What did you think?
This post was sponsored by EdenFantasys who provided me with a gift certificate to fund my on-going addiction to luxury sex toys and sexy lingerie in exchange for my post. All opinions are my own because that’s how I roll.