1 August 2012 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: Hysteria
It's always amazing to learn how medical science has developed over the many decades with new discoveries, treatments and cures, and back in the late 19th Century, female hysteria was thought to be treatable in what is known as the pelvic massage. Which yes, in other words, masturbation, where in what this film had depicted, having a doctor perform the act on your behalf, with nothing sexual, but purely as a means of therapy which was hard on the fingers, and satisfaction measured by the achieving of an orgasm.
Written by Stephen and Jonah Lisa Dyer from an original story by Howard Gensler, Hysteria would like you to believe it's based on a true story, loosely of course, about how the vibrator actually came to fruition. In fact, it paints a more hilarious look at what came before that contraption actually became reality, and lo and behold, little do we know the humble beginnings of a technological marvel, like all things, stem from a problem with the manual method. Too much of a good thing, led to hand cramps in this case. What more when Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), a handsome doctor with a penchant to help to sick, becomes a popular go-to healer to help hysterical women keep their condition under control. An ability he is sought for, until his hand becomes sore.
With the, erm, pleasures obtained outside of the home and as part of medical treatment, Mortimer's practice under the private clinic of Dr Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) enabled both men to push forth the boundaries for treating hysteria. What more, Robert Dalrymple is also on the lookout for a possible successor to his esteemed, elite and lucrative clinic, and has daughter Emily (Felicity Jones) as carrot should he find an heir apparent to whom he can also give away Emily's hand in marriage to. And rounding up the Dalrymples is Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Emily's sister who's the exact opposite in character.
Hysteria packed a lot into its narrative, from issues like the class divide, as well as a romance that has Mortimer being drawn to the two sisters for different reasons - one to up his social standing and is a natural progression to further his career ambitions, while the outspokenness of the other, in being able to hold an intelligent conversation, balanced with a heart of gold in wanting to help the less fortunate, and is not afraid to stand firm on her convictions. What more, a proposition to allow Mortimer to put his skills into real, practical use, may be too good to be true, and you can see the appeal here, in breaking with conventional norms and stepping out to do what you truly believe in.
So outside of what makes this film sexy, and comedic at the same time, is a strong underlying theme about the social condition of the era, with woman's rights being non existent, and on the cusp of a revolution with forward thinkers gaining their ground a step at a time, probably in some ways mirroring the liberation in sexuality as well, with the advent of a device that can be procured and used in private, compared to having visit the doctor's, which I have to admit provided plenty of laughs even though they are fairly tame in treatment.
The story may play out in expectant terms, but the ensemble cast is the appeal as well. Hugh Darcy may not be a big name in this part of the world, but surely his turn as the doctor here will win him some admirers. Maggie Gyllenhaal didn't have a role that can accentuate her already sterling filmography, but with her character becomes the live-wire of the movie, catalyzing plenty of ideas that we already are familiar with, but are quite abhorred in that era. Jonathan Pryce plays the overbearing patriarch with aplomb, while Rupert Everett has a small role as the eccentric tycoon Edmund St. John-Smuthe who has engineering responsibilities and credited with the creation of a device that had a different use, only for Mortimer Granville to chance upon an opportunity when used in a separate way.
Labelled as one of the best selling adult toys, the vibrator has come a long way from the images and stills of those designed in the early stage, so stay tuned during the end credits for that educational session of how designs evolved from humble beginnings, together with some of the kinkiest descriptions to market the product. Definitely highly recommended, and may just creep into my shortlist as one of the best this year!