Watching Hysteria at the State

Wowie wow, I saw Hysteria yesterday and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

Let me give you a little background on the film itself… Basically the plot minus any sort of interpretation is a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator in late Victorian England. Before you click out of the post in disgust let me quickly say that it was not only funny but tastefully done. Why, you might ask, did I decide to watch this movie in a theater? Surrounded by people who are many years older than myself? There are a few reasons. I thought it sounded interesting and also I totally forgot that very few people (at least of those I know) my age enjoy a good historical romantic comedy! But the description looked interesting and I was feeling adventurous. Good thing!

I arrived at the State after my panel discussion and immediately ran into one of my favorite retired teacher friends! Which was very fun (we enjoy sharing tea and talking about Europe together!) and she invited me to sit behind her during the movie, which I ended up doing. 

I sat down behind her and listened to the beginning band, Swallowtail which was a sort of Bluegrass-y inspired band that consisted of three members. They also played jig music and were a nice source of entertainment before the show started. Gentle conversation drifted around me, the discussions always threw me off when I would hear someone utter an occasional “vibrator.” Then the movie started and I settled down, entirely unsure of what to expect.

I was flying solo at this film and I must say I’m awfully glad I didn’t invite my parental units along– I didn’t physically squirm in my seat but there were definitely moments during the movie that I had to keep my eyes totally trained on the screen so I wouldn’t see the reaction of the middle-aged men and women who surrounded me. The last thing I wanted to do was meet the eyes of a stranger in the middle of a “treatment” scene. I am not a prude, let me be clear here it was just a lot more… detailed? than I thought it would be. Somehow this didn’t take away from my enjoyment of it either.

This movie was marvelous; the acting, the script (whoever wrote that must have had a grand time coming up with quick one-liner innuendo’s that proper Victorians say without any sort of realization (tehe!)), the costumes! the setting. Everything was so good. And people LOVED it! I am still surprised about the variety of people that really enjoyed it. The movie was funny pretty much constantly and it was a laugh out loud sort of movie so there were plenty of outbursts from shy giggles to outright guffaws. Afterwards people were raving about it and smiling to themselves leaving the theater. Sex is funny, especially in the Victorian era.

There were a lot of important feminist points that were made in the movie which I liked. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character, Charlotte is a “volatile” girl who does not adhere to the proper Victorian woman standards which is what makes her so awesome. She is the rebellious daughter of the doctor who diagnoses women as “hysterical” and she doesn’t get along with her father at all. She would prefer to spend her days in the East end of London at the haven for the poor children of workers where she teaches them some simple sums, reading and other academics, but mostly keeps them safe. Her father doesn’t think that a woman should be doing such things, especially one of her age. In the meantime she has a sister, the innocent and properly British Victorian woman, Emily who exchanges cute smiles with the newest apprentice the dashing Mortimer Granville (played by Hugh Dancy!) Mortimer begins to like Emily and they awkwardly interact. At first Charlotte repulses Mortimer but eventually he starts to admire her forwardness and brashness. You can see where this is going…. it is after all a romantic comedy! Mixed into all of this is of course the “pelvic massages” that Mortimer and the other doctor are giving to women as “treatment” and they are quite hysterical…. especially when they undergo treatment. Mortimer gives so many “treatments” that his hand becomes cramped and injured so that out of this pain he and his fellow friend develop the “electric massager.” There is more, but I want you to see it so I am not going to give it all away!

After the film the director Tanya, skyped in from New York City and talked to the audience. She was witty and very gracious. I will leave you with my favorite comment she made in reference to a scene in the movie involving ducks (let your imaginations run wild!)

“If anyone wants it, I have a hard drive full of duck porn.”

Go and see Hysteria. But maybe without your mom or dad….

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