It's rare that when a director says, "Thanks for coming" at the start of a Q-and-A, the audience bursts into laughter. But for our first foray at the Tribeca Film Festival, we selected a romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator, so guffaws abounded. Hysteria stars Hugh Dancy as young Mortimer Granville, who gets a job masturbating bored, sad, disappointed, and otherwise frustrated women of all ages thought to be suffering from "female hysteria" in London. He, and other doctors, would massage a woman's "most secret area" until she experienced "paroxysm," what we now call "orgasm." Back then, though, this release was in no way considered sexual.
He starts to suffer from agitation, in the form of the fictional Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a passionate do-gooder and suffragette, and from carpal tunnel. His tremendous pain prevents him from doing his job properly, until he discovers relief from his friend's latest electrical invention, the "feather duster."
According to the movie's epilogue, hysteria as a medically validated diagnosis stayed on the books until 1952. We've made many advances in vibrator technology since its invention in the 1880s, but these days it often seems as if our thinking about women's sexuality hasn't changed at all. The movie isn't as fun as a paroxysm, but it's a cure for what ails us.