A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Hysteria is a comedy-romance set in the 1880s that deals with the invention of the vibrator. Although the movie (akin to The Full Monty) manages to coyly avoid actually saying anything vulgar or showing any nudity, it has very strong suggestions of sexuality, as male doctors provide orgasms for female patients in an attempt to treat "hysteria." The doctors touch and massage the women behind a discreet screen, while they remain otherwise clothed. There's a bit of violence (male debt collectors beat up an old lady in one scene), and some social and comical drinking. Even though the movie isn't graphic, teens should be mature enough to understand something about sexuality before viewing.
What's the story?
In 1880s London, young doctor Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) keeps losing jobs because he wants to use modern scientific knowledge -- as opposed to the old, traditional methods. He winds up working for Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who treats "hysteria" in women by providing orgasms. There, Mortimer starts courting the doctor's pretty daughter, Emily (Felicity Jones), but also meets Emily's sister, the fiery Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who spends her time treating the poor and downtrodden for little financial gain. The hysteria business is booming, and as Mortimer's exhausted hand begins to give him trouble, his friend and benefactor (Rupert Everett) comes up with an invention that could change everything.
Is it any good?
Borrowing a tone and approach from The Full Monty, director Tanya Wexler tackles the topic of human sexuality in a coy way that allows her not to show any nudity or say anything vulgar. This approach will make Hysteria appeal to a much wider audience than something more intimate and direct, like Shame, but it also avoids an actual discourse on the topic; it merely suggests that viewers should walk away from the movie feeling good about being more modern and open-minded than the citizens of 1880s were.
HYSTERIA gets most of its humor from the juxtaposition of prudishness and sex, as characters slowly find themselves freed from primitive thinking, and it's easy to laugh along. Though the whole cast is charming, Gyllenhaal's character is the most admirable of the bunch. But she's also the most misplaced, bringing an idea of women's liberation to a time that most certainly wasn't ready for it. In his small supporting role, Everett provides the movie's freest, loosest humor, drolly enjoying his own bad behavior.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Hysteria's sexuality. At one point a character says something about women "taking back their bodies." Is that what happens? What do women/characters actually learn about sexuality here?
By acknowledging sexuality in women of all different ages and shapes, does the movie make a positive statement about body type?
Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
- In theaters: May 18, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: September 18, 2012
- Cast: Hugh Dancy, Jonathan Pryce, Maggie Gyllenhaal
- Director: Tanya Wexler
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Romance
- Topics: History
- Run time: 100 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sexual content
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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