Thursday, June 21, 2012

Hysterical Treatment

The movie Hysteria appealed to me for a lot of reasons. I'm kind of into the history of the vibrator -- I've spent a lot of time checking out the historical displays at the flagship Good Vibrations store in San Francisco. Hysteria, and the real and imagined wild devices used to treat it, comes up a lot in steampunk erotica, which is a favorite genre of mine. And every now and then, I enjoy playing "hysteria" at home.

I loved the movie. Its treatment of the subject matter was nuanced. Plenty of things are played for comedy, like an opera singer who really gets into her arias the first time she experiences a full-on electrical "vulval massage," but the movie doesn't hesitate to punch you in the gut when that's warranted -- it's all fun and games until you see a woman on trial in danger of being sentenced to immediate surgical hysterectomy for incurable hysteria.

The tone of the movie is light-hearted. It could be considered a romantic comedy, and it has a loopy adoration of vibrators that I found charming.

But if you stand back and think about it for a while, you'll see that the movie provides plenty of material to ponder the dark side -- it indicts the medical science of the time for a lot of arrogant, dead wrong treatments that weren't based on observation and true science. As is often the case with historical movies, I thought this was at least somewhat intended as a comment on modern treatment of women. There's still a lot of fear of female sexuality out there in the world -- whether you're talking clitoridectomy or attacks against women's access to birth control or the many ways a woman can get labeled a slut.

I recommend the movie -- it successfully manages a delicate balancing act, providing an entertaining evening at the cinema along with plenty of food for thought.

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