Hysteria (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Hysteria (2012)

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I had an argument not too long ago about whether women were less forward and desiring than men when it came to sex.  The opposing view came to say that since men consume more pornography they are automatically more likely to be forward.  Issues with the reasoning aside, I said this has never been the case.  Hell, just look at the success of the 50 Shades series, or Danielle Steele, and romance novels throughout the ages.

What Hysteria tries, and mostly fails, to do is establish the myth of the imbalanced sex drive as nothing new.  To further the point they set this in the Victorian era, that stuffy period of British history when women wore layers of underwear over steel chastity belts and men only had sex when the tide was perfect.  How much you believe in that sentence will factor into how much you are willing to buy into the fictional British world of Hysteria.  In reality, debauchery was in full-swing during the Victorian era and women participated just as vigorously as men, albeit a bit more quietly.

So how does Hysteria reconcile the actual lecherous past with it's more puritanical world?  By mostly ignoring it and centering every bit of desire and passion into one straw feminist who gets every token line regarding rights off in her first scene.  Are there better developed representations of the sexual state of Victorians?  No, just the two redheads who can't get enough and a parade of brunettes who are hesitant and buttoned-up.  Oh, so is there something beyond the color-coding and simplistic depictions of history?  No, just an old man fingering women until their brains feel better.  Cue laughter.

A rare sexless moment instead filled with dialogue about their soon to be realized "arrangement."

It's just a bad joke, and someone should have requested some variety early on.  The problem is that what scenes aren't playing with the perpetual orgasm business are trapped in a romantic comedy plot whose outcome has been predestined since the sun first rose.  The stuffy younger doctor takes a liking to his mentor's equally rigid daughter (Felicity Jones).  Yet, here's that fiery independent thinker (Maggie Gyllenhaal) that he could never see himself with in a million years.  If I told you there was a scene where they just happen to stumble on each other and his hand mistakenly finds her breast, would you be surprised?

If so, read no further, and treasures await you in Hysteria.

For the rest of us, Hysteria is incredibly repetitious in almost every aspect of its narrative and execution.  The increasingly unsubtle jokes about women's orgasms are the most frequent offenders but the films preoccupation with filling sex in other ways, like when two ducks keep coming back onscreen to copulate, are the most irritating.  It's as if someone wrote the word "sex" and never stopped until the director had to force a film around it.

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Hysteria (2012)

Directed by Tanya Wexler.
Screenplay by Jonah Lisa Dyer, Stephen Dyer, and Howard Gensler.
Starring Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Posted by Andrew

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