Hysteria - The SSL Review

Hysteria. This movie sucked. I mean, I hope you don't think I'm not being too negative and blunt, but honestly it just sucked. It was boring, uninteresting, and did I also say boring...also the characters were ridiculously predictable archetypes. Maggie Gyllenhaal just over acted the hell out of it. You can only be so much of a throw-caution-to-the-wind, I'm-equal-to any-man, do-gooding, super-strong-woman type. A little goes a long way, Maggie. Let em tell you the whole plot. Doctor gets job manually masturbating women to alleviate their "hysteria," but it starts making his hand hurt. He gets his super rich and obviously-way-into-making-electric-machinery-as-a-hobby  buddy to make the first electric vibrator. Then, what a surprise, he gets with that wildly strong and independent women in the end! Done. I'm not spoiling the movie for you because all that is obvious in the first 10 minutes, and there's not much else to the movie except some predictable vibrator and lady-gasm jokes.

However, for obvious reasons (or in case it's not obvious - because there are discussions and depictions of female sexual release in this movie) I need to do an SSL review on this, so here goes. That aspect of this movie sucked too - which is really sad because this movie could have portrayed a realistic understanding of female orgasm. It let me down, though people...it let me down. I wrote a little primer on hysteria in my previous post, so feel free to check it out if you are lost about that.

I'm going to give you a quick overview of the points in this movie where sexual release is discussed or depicted. It's actually surprisingly few times. Early in the movie Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is sort of desperate for a medical job and ends up in an upper class practice, where he basically just manually stimulates upper class women to orgasm each week as a treatment for their hysteria.

To train him, the old doctor takes him in a room where an older lady is laying with a sort of curtained box around her middle area - covering her lady junk. She is otherwise clothed. It is her weekly appointment. The older doctor demonstrates the use of oils generously covering his hand (for lubrication - although that is not really said specifically) and then he reaches under the curtains and starts stimulating. He tells Dr. Granville to use his index finger in a circular motion. We see that the lady enjoys it, but an hour goes by before she reached  "hysterical paroxysm." The older doctor is obviously tired and overworked by the end.

That's the only lesson the dude got. He didn't even get to look at where the old doctor was stimulating. He then gets to give it a go with another patient. He oils up, reaches under the ol' curtain and starts stimulating. He still hasn't seen what he's touching, and I have a hard time believing that he could possibly know what the hell he's doing. But...I guess he does, because he gets her off, and the appointments come (no pun intended) rushing in. I guess he's a natural. He is obviously getting some serious over use injuries to his hand and wrist though. Some boring, stupid crap happens, and then he and his friend make the first electric vibrator. Dr. Granville knows it feels good, because he massages his hand with it. They try it out on a "former" prostitute. It works, and then after convincing the old Doctor to try it out on some of the practice's patients, it's a huge hit, and women are coming in minutes instead of hours.

So now I will discuss my grievances:

1. I take issue with the idea that a dude (or a lady) - with no prior practice in manually stimulating a woman, could just oil up his or her hands and figure out how to induce orgasm without ever even looking at a vulva. The old doctor training Dr. Granville didn't even give any indication of where "down there" he was supposed to touch. This scene really annoys me. I believe this scene could have been a great way to give a severely mis-educated public some directions on what parts "down there" usually need stimulation in order for a woman to come. Just simply pointing out that you don't focus on the vag hole and do focus on the clitoral/vulva area would have been hugely awesome and progressive, but they couldn't even do that.

2. The movie gives the wrong idea about the time it takes women to orgasm. The woman at the beginning took almost an hour to come, and the insinuation throughout the movie was that it did take all the women nearly an hour to come when the good doctor was doing his treatment. However, it was also insinuated that he ALWAYS got them to come in the end.

After we see his hand has been hurting for a while, we get to a scene where he does not make a woman come. She is absolutely appalled and goes to the old doctor with her utter dissatisfaction, and we are led to believe that this never happens to Dr. Granville. My problem with this is that it reinforces the belief that women (particularly compared with men) take forever to come. In reality, women masturbating themselves can and do orgasm as quickly as men, so one would assume that a man as highly skilled as Dr. Granville would be able to get the job done in a matter of minutes for at least a number of the women. Honestly, if your job is to manually stimulate women to orgasm, and every woman you do that to takes almost an hour to get there, you're not that good at your job (maybe he should have looked under the curtain once or twice). And frankly, ladies, I think by the time I reached 30 minutes on the table with non-stop rubbing, I'd be about 70% likely to just give up and move on.  Am I alone on that ladies? I mean I think I'd be starting to chafe by then, ya know? The ladies in this movie must have had some real stick-to-it-ness.

I think the movie was going for the joke with all the stuff about it taking an hour to get there. It was probably also supposed to highlight and silly-fy his hand pain and the improvement in orgasm time with the use of a vibrator. It really didn't help with the funniness, though, and if you think about it, it doesn't make sense that a really skilled manual stimulator (as Dr. Granville was made out to be) would take that much longer than a vibrator. Yeah it would be a little shorter and definitely better on the hand, but not an hour versus a couple minutes?

They could have gone a different direction with this. Bear with me. Instead of insinuating that women, even with a skilled manual stimulator, take forever to orgasm and that the vibrator must be some kind of magical immediate orgasm device (and don't get me wrong - it is in a way), they could have dwelled on the more likely situation that many of the doctors were actually not that skilled. Maybe they used un-lubed hands, or stimulated something other than the clit for an hour, or they used weird non-stimulating hand motions. Probably only some of the hysteria doctors were actually skilled. I think this would be a much funnier and more truthful route. The movie would take a more progressive tone; showing how often people (then and today) think they know how to stimulate a woman but are so off base. The introduction of the vibrator would not then seem like a magic bullet (pun intended), but simply a more fool proof method. Idiot doctors only had to set the vibration on the vulva, and even if they pointed it a little off the mark, the vibrations might still make their way to right spot.
(BTW - that idea about women taking forever to orgasm makes sense only if you realize that it comes from intercourse. Of course it takes women 10x longer to orgasm during an act that specifically stimulates the male pleasure organ in a similar way to masturbation yet specifically stimulates the vagina, a rather non-nervy, accommodates-pain-of-childbirth, organ in women. Only by chance might there also be some superfluous stimulation of the female pleasure organ - the clit. So, yeah, she's gonna take longer to come - if she comes at all.)

3.  I also really hate how this movie, a movie that specifically is about how doctors manually stimulated vulva/clitoral area to orgasm, somehow ends up insinuating to the audience that vaginal penetration was involved. Firstly, this movie is so vague that if one didn't know better (and I'm positive there is more than a few who do not), he or she could assume that all the manipulation happening under the curtains took place in the vagina. The index finger in a circular motion that the old doctor talked about could easily have been assumed to be in the vagina, sort of finger-screwing her, if you will. I know that this is a Hollywood movie, and I shouldn't expect that it would be gratuitously detailed in its explanation of female manual stimulation, but frankly - it should have been (and it probably could have made the movie funnier).

Vagueness, like the kind displayed in this movie, is the enemy of the female orgasm. Because media depictions - (everything from porn to romance novels to Hollywood movies) insinuate that women orgasm through simple vaginal penetration, that idea becomes the fallback understanding. Being vague about what physically gets a woman off actually reinforces cultural misinformation. The only real way for media to move in a positive direction with this subject is to depict and discuss female sexual response in a realistic accurate way - and not be vague about it. Unfortunately, this movie's vagueness was not its only offense.

It also rewrote history to insinuate that in-out movements are needed for female orgasm. A lot of people probably missed this, but when Dr. Granville first moves the brand new electric vibrator towards his test subject's "down there," we see, for just a couple seconds, that the head of the vibrator moves in and out. The audience is never again in a position to see the vibrator move again. It is only that one time, but I think that is enormously telling and disappointing.

that scene never happened, but it shows movie vibrator
Now maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that's what the first vibrator actually did. Maybe it's historically accurate. I admit I haven't been able to actually see or watch Granville's vibrator in my internet searching, and it was actually called Granville's "Hammer," which sounds like it might move in and out, but I still highly doubt that is the case. First off, doctors who did this treatment were pretty adamant that it was not sexual, and it was well known that women could only achieve sexual pleasure from a penis. So I would assume that a tool that made movements like a penis pushing in and out of a vagina would not be a tool that doctors found to be suitable or moral. Plus, as far as I know it did revolutionize the business, it became easy to induce "hysterical paroxysm." So if this was what the tool did, then doctors were either putting it in ladies' vaginas, or they were punching their clits, and neither seems like it would be the best way to get a lady orgasmsing. Plus, on this site about Dr. Granville it described the tool this way:
In the Puritan-prudish Victorian England Mortimer Granville developed the world's first electric vibrator, a drill with a small ball on the end. When clicking on the device, it would start humming. The electric power was supplied from the battery the size of a suitcase.
 Nothing there about the ball moving in and out....it seemed like it just...yeah, vibrated. Oh and on another note, the "ball" on the movie vibrator was not really a ball. It was more phallic, like the top part of a bullet...and it was flesh colored (white flesh anyway). So, for some reason, the people making this movie went off historical accuracy to make the vibrator look more like something that mimicked what a penis might do in a vagina. Ass holes...I'm hoping that the in-out movement was decided upon because it seemed funnier and not because they specifically wanted to insinuate to men and women in the audience that females orgasm through vaginal penetration. However, even if it was made that way simply to seem funnier, it just reminds me that people, all kinds of people - even ones that should be educated - are confused about how women physically get orgasms, and furthermore don't believe it's something that merits realism or thoughtfulness when depicting or discussing in mass media.

4. The movie could have been a ton more interesting and funny if it had dealt with female orgasm, hysteria, the story of the first vibrator, the professional necessity for the treatment not to be sexual, the general ignorance of female sexual pleasure, etc, all in a more realistic, detailed, and historically accurate way. A couple examples...The actual Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville was not a hysteria doctor. He didn't marry his hysteria doctor boss's wild (why, almost hysterical!) feminist daughter. He made a vibrating piece of machinery that he and his male colleagues used for sore muscles. Word is, he absolutely hated that it was misused for hysteria treatments. That sounds like a better story line to me.

Also, in a scene where one doctor teaches another doctor how to give hysteria treatment, wouldn't there be all sorts of opportunity for comedy if the two male doctors were going about a detailed realistic discussion looking at the vulva, while also keeping up the completely non-sexual, medically upstanding facade?

Come on, Hysteria writers, directors, prop-makers, and a lot of the actors! You could have done much better...at creating a movie with a positive and progressive impact on the cultural understanding of female orgasm. Instead it insinuated that women take a long time to orgasm and that vaginal penetration is involved - just the same ol' misinformation that already exists. I had such high hopes for this movie and it let me down so hard that I am giving this movie negative 1 vulva. That is an SSL first!


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