DVD Review: Hysteria (2012)

Directed by: Tanya Wexler
Written by: Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer
Rated: R
Running Time: 99 minutes
Hysteria, set in London in 1880, sets out to tell the true story of the first vibrator. The film follows the medical career of Dr. Mortimer Granville (played by Hugh Dancy) as he struggles to find his niche. He starts out in a hospital still using leeches, but when he tries to convince the medical director that germs actually exist, he is summarily dismissed. He is told that the key to good medicine is "calm reassurance and regular bleeding". He expresses his frustration to the son of his benefactor, Edwin Smythe (played by Rupert Everett) saying "No wonder the hospital is adjacent to the morgue!" Smythe is a colorful character and soon becomes integral to the plot of the movie. In the meantime, we see that he spends his days inventing various mechanical objects. There is a hint at the beginning that his character is possibly gay, but that storyline is never fully explored.

Dr. Granville resumes his search for a job, but it appears that his reputation preceeds him and he has been blackballed in London's medical community. Eventually he finds his way to the office of Dr. Dalrymple (played by Jonathan Pryce), a specialist in Women's Medicine, where he learns about hysteria, "the plague of our time". Hysteria is classified as anxiety and melancholia caused by an overactive uterus. Some of these women have been institutionalized for the condition, but Dr. Dalrymple feels that he has discovered a revolutionary new treatment. He feels that women are unable to feel pleasure except through the penetration of the male organ, so he does the next best thing. Although he doesn't call it this, the treatment is essentially manually masturbating the woman until she climaxes. As expected, the treatment is quite popular among the upper class women of London.

Dr. Granville is hired and soon has more patients than he can handle. In fact, his hand cramps so severely that he has to soak it in ice between patients and wear a brace. When he switches to his left hand after nearly freezing a patient with his right, his treatment fails for the first time and he is dismissed. And, as they say, necessity of the mother of invention. Granville once again turns to his friend, Smythe, and the rest, as they say, is history. A new device is invented and is wildly successful. Granville returns to Dalrymple's practice and the device is introduced as a new treatment. In a humorous moment, after demonstrating that a woman can have 3 "paroxysms" in 5 minutes, one of them says "You're going to need a bigger appointment book!"

Aside from the vibrator storyline, the film also explores the plight of the poor and the oppression of women in 1880. Dr. Dalrymple has two daughters, Emily (played by Felicity Jones) and Charlotte (played by Maggie Gyllenhaal). Emily plays the piano and lives with her father. She is the epitome of class and soon becomes engaged to Granville. But Charlotte is different. She works in a tenement, assisting the cities poor and fighting for their rights. She is an outspoken feminist and regularly butts heads with her father. She has a very low opinion of the work that her father and Granville are performing and sees it for what it is. Granville and Charlotte argue about the nature of sexual pleasure in women but when Charlotte brings in one of her wards with a broken ankle, she sees a different side of the doctor. She tells him of her plans to expand the building she works in so that more people can be helped, including starting a clinic. Granville is torn between wanting to help her and his obligations to his fiance and business partner.

Emotions boil over at Granville's engagement party when Charlotte assaults a police officer and is arrested. Granville testifies on her behalf, and the two realize that they have feelings for each other. He reconsiders her offer to help the poor and the two become engaged and probably go on to live happily ever after.

I liked the movie, but it is what it is-a light-hearted romantic comedy with a fairly predictable plot. But I like Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal, so it wasn't too bad. The costumes are great and Gyllenhaal's English accent is spot on. You can watch it now on Amazon Prime (click into my store on the right at the top), buy it here or download it at iTunes Hysteria.

Thanks for stopping by and getting buzzed!!