By Jeffrey Anderson,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Movie about sex toy invention isn't all that graphic.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
It's possible to see a message about women's liberation or women's sexuality, but Hysteria's arc is mostly focused on very traditional Hollywood things: men getting ahead in the world, getting rich, and finding romance. That said, most characters do learn that they can choose their own path in life.
Positive Role Models
Charlotte is a positive role model except for the way she aggressively fights with her wealthy father. She's fully dedicated to helping others and runs a hospital in a poor part of town; she's unable to pay the bills, but is also unwilling to give up. The main character actually seems rather selfish compared to her.
Violence & Scariness
Debt collectors beat up an old woman, and a young woman punches a cop in the face. Viewers see images of a primitive hospital, with leeches, blood, and festering wounds. There's general arguing and a reference to splitting someone's head with an axe.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Hysteria is all about female sexuality, but it's very coy about actually showing any nudity or directly saying anything vulgar. Even so, women -- diagnosed with the vague condition "hysteria" -- visit the doctor to have orgasms, and the male doctors (working under a discreet screen), masturbate and massage them to achieve this. Otherwise, they remain clothed. The dialogue during these scenes is almost exclusively made up of discreet innuendo. Additionally, a former prostitute propositions the hero, but using only innuendo and gestures. The most physical thing shown, aside from a romantic kiss, are two ducks having sex in a pond. During the end credits, there are photos of vibrators throughout history.
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Since the movie is set in 1880, language is limited to historical slang/swearing such as "stiff prick," "bugger," and "bloody hell."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A supporting character is said to be a drunk, but he's rarely actually seen drinking. Otherwise, characters drink socially (whisky, rum, champagne, and port), and there's discussion of doctors and the pills they prescribe.
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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.
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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: December 7, 2022
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