In Frankfurt, Germany, every Monday night the movie theater Cine Star shows a random English film for €5. It’s crazy cheap, but the catch is that you have no idea what you’re going to see in advance. In fact, you don’t find out what film you’re about to see until it’s actually started playing. My friends and I decided to check it out The introductory notes began to roll, and dramatic music began to play. The first voices were met with groans as we realized we were about to watch a period piece and everyone feared it would be just godawful.
However, as the movie unfurled, we soon learned that this was not just any period piece. This film, “based on real events” as the introduction told us, relayed the history of… the vibrator! To our laughs and enjoyment,Hysteria told of how, in 1880s the England, the “illness” that woman suffered from known as hysteria was treated by a doctor actually giving a woman a handjob. The aging Dr. Robert Dalrymple (played by Jonathan Pryce)’s practice grows quickly as bored, anxious, and sexually repressed women suffering from hysteria hear of this amazing treatment. Women begin coming to his office in droves and he takes on the young Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy), who is desperately seeking work after being rejected from job after job because of his “radical” ideas on germs and cleanliness. When the young doctor suffers from hand cramps and nearly loses his job, he and his close friend come up with a clever idea using a generator and a small motor. And the rest, my friends, is history.
Still, while the film is hilarious and will definitely have you in stitches, there is a serious undertone, and it is no mistake that the film’s sneak peek takes place in Frankfurt (the film has not yet been released in theaters in most countries). The adventurous, charismatic, and charitable Charlotte Dalrymple (Maggie Gyllenhaal), though the daughter of Dr. Dalrymple and thus of the upper class, fights for the rights of the lower class, and especially for women. Charlotte works in a charity schoolhouse for impoverished children, allowing the mothers to become more free to lead their own lives and at the same time teaching the children about modern hygiene and health so that eventually the children will bring these methods home with them. Charlotte’s dream is to buy the surrounding buildings to hold a medical clinic for the poor, a communal laundry space, and a meeting spot for women. Dr. Dalrymple is completely disgusted with her work and attempts to cut off her desire to work alongside prostitutes, criminals, drunks, and the poor. At one point, Mortimer questions her on what she is doing and accuses her of socialism. The film, with its off-the-cuff sex jokes, is actually quite a serious commentary on sexual and economic repression.
At a time when the whole world is trembling financially, this film, in my opinion, seeks to draw out some of the ideals we see being brought out in the Occupy movements around the world. Charlotte’s call for a communal space for people to come together to discuss their rights, become educated, and live freely resembles the small communities forming in the commercial streets and centers that I’ve seen around Europe. When Mortimer suddenly blurts out his accusation of socialism, it calls to mind some of the accusations I have heard made towards the Occupy movement.
At the same time, Charlotte’s role says a lot to me about what potential the current movement has, because, as we know, since the 1880s women have earned (at least in most western countries) equal rights in voting, sexuality, and occupation, though it is most definitely not a solved issue throughout the world. Charlotte acts as a leader to those suffering in her community, something the movement is currently seeking. Charlotte is also of the upper class, yet she empathizes with the sufferings of the lower class, calling to mind those of us who turn a blind eye to those who suffer simply because we do not suffer with them.
I don’t think it is a coincidence, therefore, that this surprise sneak peek was in Frankfurt. The Occupy movement here in Frankfurt is rumored to be the largest in Europe at the moment with about 8,000 protesters (London having about 5,000). Sadly, this film has no release date yet in the US, so you’ll probably have to fly to Europe or wait until 2012 to see it. But in my opinion, this witty film is a must-see at the moment.
Greg Sarafan founded Greg Sarafan’s Sensible Reason in 2007. He started blogging for HeadCount in January 2011. Soon after he organized and ran a small but successful charity festival called Binghamtronica to benefit HeadCount and OxFam America. He is a Team Leader in NYC as well as Artist Relations representative for HeadCount. Greg has BAs in political science and art history from Binghamton University. Greg has a J.D. as well as a Certificate in Intelectual Property, Media and Privacy from Brooklyn Law School . Greg also volunteers for OxFam America as a Concert Outreach Coordinator. In 2009 Greg presented his theory of Artistic Stylistic Transmission in the Royal Mughal Atelier at an art history symposium at Ohio State University.