Hysteria (2011)

Rated R. Our ratings: V 2; L -1; S/N -4. Running time: 1 hour 40 min.

Husbands, in the same way, show consideration
for your wives in your life together, paying honour
to the woman as the weaker sex,* since they too
are also heirs of the gracious gift of life—so that
nothing may hinder your prayers.
1 Peter 3:7

Dr. Granville and friend meet Charlotte unfashionably
riding a bicycle on the London streets.

2011 Sony Pictures Classics

It’s 1880, and in London Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) cannot convince the senior doctors at the hospital that they should wash their hands to get rid of germs. Equally backward is society’s view of women, the teachings of Pe ter and Paul concerning the subordination of “the weaker sex” still dominant. The good doctor finds employment at a clinic where sexually frustrated women are treated under the misapprehension that they suffer from “hysteria.” The treatment will raise your eyebrows, the clinic owner showing Granville how to use his finger for massaging the patients’ vagina. Yes, you read right—this was actually a treatment. And then, almost by accident, Granville invents a mechanical treatment this is the ancestor for the world’s popular sex toy.

There is a light social commentary to the film in the person of a feisty suffragette daughter Charlotte (Gyllenhaal) who runs a clinic for the poor. Of course, Granville and Charlotte clash. Despite his advanced view of medicine, his view of women and their place are close to that of the old apostles. Don’t expect much depth in what is basically a titillating summer romantic comedy. Still, for a summer comedy it at least raises some questions about the role of women in society, though one might wish that more of Charlotte’s fight to obtain for women the right to vote would have been included.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. How do you and your church deal with such passages on the role of women as the passage from 1 Peter?

2. 2. How is a person often a mixture of the progressive and regressive, like Granville? What changes him?

3. Were you surprised that Victorian England would put up with such a therapy as was developed at the clinic?

4. How does the trial show the seriousness of a woman’s position at that time? Compare this to the treatment of the mother in Clint Eastwood film Changling.

5. At the end, as the credits roll, what unintended consequences did Granville’s invention produce? How does this show the great change in society’s view of sex? What do you think of this, and how are the churches still struggling with this?