Movie review – The origin of good vibrations

2012-11-09 10:07

Film: Hysteria (Ster-Kinekor)
Director: Tanya Wexler
Featuring: Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones and Rupert Everett
Rating: 8/10

If you find trips to the movies a little short on satisfaction, you can be sure you’ll get it from this saucy, tongue-in-cheek flick.

It is a fictionalised history of the invention of the vibrator, the idiocracy of conventional wisdom that led to its invention and the eternal gratitude of the women who tried it first.

It’s also a love story, full of hilarious one-liners. In short, it’s a film for grown-ups with a ribald sense of humour.

Hugh Dancy is Dr Mortimer Granville, a version of the real guy who patented the first electromechanical vibrator. In the early days of germ theory, Granville works with old doctors who declare clean bandages and washed hands “poppycock”.

Finally, he grows tired of killing his patients because of ignorance and adherence to tradition. He finds his way to Dr Robert Dalrymple’s (Jonathan Pryce) up-market practice where women who can afford it are being treated for that convenient catch-all female malady created by clueless male doctors: hysteria.

It isn’t long before the handsome young doctor’s rooms are filled with women seeking the physical cure for their mental state – “hysterical paroxysm”, better known to the rest of us as orgasm.

This hysterical paroxysm is brought on by vaginal massage, considered tedious work by the doctor, hence the need for a gadget to prevent his wrist being strained.

If ever there was a funny (and woeful) example of the folly of men, it is the centuries-long diagnosis of women with a dizzying array of symptoms as suffering from hysteria. It even included the “tendency to cause trouble”, which is the symptom that gets Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character, Charlotte, Dr Dalrymple’s daughter, into trouble.

She pawns her earrings to feed poor folk and advocates hysteria could be cured by husbands doing a better job in bed. Needless to say, it isn’t long before the establishment is out to get her and her father. And Mortimer’s falling in love with her.

Rounding out the cast is Felicity Jones’ character, Emily, Charlotte’s sister, who is the very picture of the perfect Victorian female.

She runs the house, waits on her father, smiles and simpers, and agrees to marry Mortimer when her father recommends it.

She’s also a follower of phrenology, another dubious medical theory that argues a person’s character and fate can be guessed from bumps on their head.

There’s also the array of housewives who turn up for their treatments with breathless anticipation, from an opera singer who can’t hit the high notes to a widow with impure thoughts. There’s even a nymphomaniac.

Rupert Everett makes an arch appearance as Edmund, a dissolute billionaire with a penchant for invention. His scenes with Alexander Bell’s new invention, the telephone, are side-splitting.

Gather a gaggle of troublemaking women and take them to see Hysteria. Laugh at the sheer lunacy of it all while you count your blessings you were born after the sexual revolution.

As Hysteria reaches its climax, though, it is also a reminder of why tradition and conventional wisdom often both need a swift kick up the pants.

Hysterical hysteria
» Plato thought a woman’s uterus wandered around her body like a living creature, causing trouble in her system. This is where the ‘hysteria diagnosis’ began.

» The vibrator was the fifth domestic appliance to be electrified for home use after the kettle and before the iron.

» Vibrators were advertised in women’s magazines, such as Needlecraft and Woman’s Home Companion, until they turned up in pornography in the 1920s, making it impossible for polite society to ignore their sexual connotations any longer.

» The first cordless vibrator was patented in 1968 at the height of the sexual revolution.

» Charlotte’s addiction to the rabbit vibrator in an episode of Sex and the City in 1998 gave this sex toy even more visibility in the mainstream.

Source: Wikipedia

» Follow me on Twitter @GayleMahala



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