Published May 24, 2012Back in the Victorian era, the way to deal with irrational, emotional women was to have a doctor diagnose them with hysteria, prop their legs up with some rudimentary stirrups and rub the upper ridge of their labia until they experienced a hysterical paroxysm, which would temporarily cure them of their pesky tendency to see the bigger picture. While we're all educated enough to know that the doctor was masturbating the dapper, corseted women of times passed, the male medical opinion of the day was that women only got pleasure from penile penetration.
According to Tanya Wexler's predictably structured romantic-comedy-cum-exaggerated-biopic, this very treatment by Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is how the original vibrator was invented. After suffering the woes of manually stimulating dozens of women a day while working at Dr. Robert Dalrymple's (Jonathan Pryce) boutique practice, he manipulates his friend's (Rupert Everett) electric feather duster into an effective paroxysm-generating device.
Dalrymple's daughter, Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), finds the entire ordeal hilarious, pointing out to Granville precisely what he's doing, which sets him on a journey of inner-discovery where he learns to appreciate her socialist, hippie-dippy vibe, shunning her father's wealthy practice in favour of serving the lower classes with a free medical clinic.
These actual plot machinations and comically handled historical tidbits merely provide the context and motivational cues for the bigger romantic comedy picture. The story here is one of romance burgeoning from ideological guidance and the idea that female "hysteria" is actually the impetus for social change and a more peaceful, compassionate way of operating culture.
Superficially, the result is merely that of better-than-average rom-com tedium, as our uptight protagonist learns to appreciate the initially antagonistic and troublesome female protagonist. His eventual appreciation of her initially perplexing behaviour is what drives the lovey-dovey angle.
What makes Hysteria more than its goofy veneer suggests is the greater implications about gender politics, using historical context and sexuality as a clever self-conscious tapestry where it can all unfold. The lesson here is one of learning to appreciate the role that different perspectives play in the game of global politics.
Sometimes, the dominant majority really can be wrong, which is why discernment - something still lost amongst the masses to this day - is a vital trait to develop, regardless of gender. (eOne)