Unshakable Doubt


The quick synopsis of “Hysteria,” out Friday, is “it’s a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator.” In the vaguely-based-on-truth story, Dr. Granville (Hugh Dancy, above) creates an incredibly loud, electrically powered pulsating monster to help HIM out. A doctor specializing in the treatment of hysteria, he’s come down with a repetitive motion injury — because the prescription for ladies suffering from this (made-up) malady is to go to the doctor and have him manually bring you to orgasm.

The symptoms of hysteria — which, in the film, is diagnosed only for upper-class and upper-middle-class women — encompassed anything, such as mild depression, liking sex, not liking sex and just being bored. The diagnosis simply meant you were a woman who didn’t fit into the Victorian ideal. Which is all fun to laugh at now, because it’s in the past, right? I mean, women no longer think they have to fit someone else’s idea of what a woman should be.

The saddest part for “Hysteria” audiences is that, while women may no longer be medically diagnosed as somehow wrong, we still spend much of our days feeling that we are. Am I too fat? Too thin? Do I smell right? Will I be taken seriously if I wear this? Why is that guy looking at me? Should I really be eating this? The boxes set up in the Victorian age have changed, but they are still, to a degree, holding us in.

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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Vicky Hallett · May 25, 2012