As the story about the invention of a certain electronic tool which has provided considerable satisfaction to women since its invention, “Hysteria” is a charming and likable comedy in spite of its vulgar aspect which naturally attracts R rating in US and 19 rating in South Korea. We are tickled not only by how little they knew about female body during the late 19th century but also how serious they were about ‘the disease’ they thought they were handling with. Believe or not, the doctors at that time really thought hysteria was a woman’s disease, and they even treated their poor patients with a drastic measure like hysterectomy.
This looks quite outrageous in our views, but that was the time when the people did not have a lot of medical knowledges compared to our time. As we see at the start of the movie, the germ theory was a progressive scientific theory during that era, and there were many doctors who did not accept that germs are the cause of infections while not having the slightest idea at all that they were actually killing their patients.
In case of Dr. Robert Dalrymple(Jonathan Pryce), he has a far less harsh way to treat his female patients suffering from hysteria, and he is very popular among his clients thanks to that. His treatment is simple; all he has to do is massaging, uh, the private part of his patients with his clean perfumed hand for a while until they experience several jolts in the end while feeling *a lot* better than before they enter his office. You may describe the service provided by Dalrymple in a more vulgar way than me, but he is absolutely serious about his practice, and Pryce’s deadpan performance never loses that hilarious but calm professionalism.
The business has been going well for Dr. Darlymple, but he has been suffering from an occupational hazard; because he has used his hand too much, his hand is exhausted, so he needs another hand to help him. He fortunately employs Dr. Mortimer Granville(Hugh Dancy), who needs a job because he has recently been fired from his hospital due to the conflict with his senior doctor, but our Dr. Granville soon begins to experience the same occupational hazard in his hand. Massaging a female genital part is a simple job, but imagine that you have to massage the same part for more than 30 minutes – and there are more than one client during one day.
That inconvenience of his is led to one clever idea. His rich libertine friend Edmund St. John-Smythe(dryly humorous Rupert Everett)’s hobby is inventing or buying several interesting electronic gadgets including an early version of telephone, and one of his fancy machines is an electronic feather duster. While he looks at that machine, it suddenly ignites a flash of genius inside Granville’s head: why not utilize it for his work?
I heard that its story is mostly fiction though inspired by a real-life story(For example, Dr. Granville invented it for himself in real life), but, as a fiction, the movie is fun to watch. We get lots of laughs while Granville and others execute the experiment with their curious electronic gadget, which would be called, of course, vibrator. While maintaining academic attitude as usual, these intelligent gentlemen have little idea about what they observe from their patient subjected to their machine(don’t worry about her – she gets an ecstatic moment of her lifetime).
Meanwhile, Granville gets involved with Dalrymple’s two daughters. First, he is formally introduced to Emily(Felicity Jones) by her father, who regards Granville as a potential successor to his practice and a future son-in-law. Though she is a little too serious about phrenology(do you know how serious they were about this ridiculous pseudo-science?), Emily is a bright and generous woman who can be a good wife to Granville, and they get close to each other in a lightweight romantic comedy mode.
But then Granville finds himself drawn to Dalrymple’s other daughter Charlotte(Maggie Gyllenhaal), a feisty suffragette who flabbergasts him with her progressive socialistic view right from their first encounter. In the movie where the male characters frequently handle the private part of women, a modern woman’s view is a welcoming presence, and Gyllenhaal imbues her lovable character with lots of energy and belief to push the story into another direction later.
Against her father’s wish, Charlotte is not so interested in marriage; instead, she passionately cares about the social issues like women’s rights and the welfare of poor people. Though he does not agree all with her opinions, Granville begins to help her work as far as he can while admiring her courage and passion. Hugh Dancy has two nice separate chemistries with his two co-actresses, and the transition in his character’s heart along the story progression is convincing. This is a gentle movie with nice people, so, as a gentleman and two ladies, they take care of their matter of heart as courteous as possible.
“Hysteria” is a little enjoyable ‘sex comedy’ which draws good laughs from its seemingly vulgar story while none of the main characters takes off their clothes (After all, they are Victorian people, aren’t they?). The movie gives us a little bonus around its end credits, and I guarantee that you will be entertained by how that useful machine has been helpful to many discontented women while going through more developments. I don’t dare to tell you about one of its latest models – see it for yourself, and you may wonder about how it works.