Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Film Review - Hysteria

The very charming film Hysteria opens with a fun montage of nervous females informing an anonymous doctor of their ‘mysterious’ ailments. Some have ‘urges’, ranging from a hunger ‘down there’ through to splitting their husband’s heads open with an axe. Each of these ailments is encompassed in the one illness, Hysteria.

The film then jumps to a deliciously sexy Hugh Dancy as Mortimer Granville, washing his hands and having a fight with his soon-to-no-longer-be employer who refuses to listen to his ranting about the latest science involving a nonsense known as ‘Germ Theory’. Once dismissed from his employ - another lost job - Mortimer realises his scientific interest in medicine conflicts with most contemporary practises. It is only when Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) offers him a job treating ‘the plague of our time’, Hysteria, that Mortimer finds his place as able to practise medicine in the way he feels inclined. It of course helps that Dr. Dalrymple has a beautiful daughter Emily (Felicity Jones) who is the epitome of the divine feminine, and a thriving practise of wealthy women filling the books to receive treatment. Of hindrance to Mortimer’s visions of perfection in his career and life is Charlotte Dalrymple (Maggie Gyllenhaal) a suffragette suffering from the most intense hysteria, and daughter to his new boss, and his long time friend and benefactor Lord Edmund St. John-Smythe (Rupert Evert) who is an inventor and gay.

In the end, it is Mortimer’s dedication to his passion for science, truth and discovery that will have him forced to make crucial decisions in his life based on fact over fiction. Oh, and of course, will lead him to actually inventing the vibrator.

This is a lovely, funny film whose comedy relies on our understanding of its subject matter. The film will be much funnier and far more endearing if you know that they are stimulating women to orgasm as the treatment for hysteria, even if at the time in history, the common belief was that women do not experience pleasure during sex. Many of the films key clever lines come from our understanding of the importance of female orgasm and this is at the expense of the people at the time who were not simpletons or obsessive sublimates as the film would have you believe. 

However, what the film does well is celebrate true medical scientific passion that is willing to forgo all the trappings of a wealthy society in favour of their Hippocratic Oath.

But all of this aside, one of the best moments in Hysteria is when the key characters try to work out a name for the new contraption they have invented. The choices they come up with are:

The jiggly wiggly
The sorceress apprentice (my personal favourite)
The rubby nubby
The vibratorium
The paroxicimator
The excitatory
Mr Wobbly
The squealer

Hysteria is a very funny film, which is endearing at its core, as well as being a charming romance. It is also rather uncomfortably close to historical accuracy. 

Hire it on DVD or watch it online for a very funny and pleasant evening. 

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