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American Women's Club of Hamburg

How I learned to stop writing and love the madness

At the Filmfest Hamburg I saw two wacky movies with plotlines about men going mad: the Portuguese movie THE DEAD QUEEN (Pedro & Inés), which was shown in the Eurovisuell section and retells one love story through three different time periods, and THE LIGHTHOUSE (Der Leuchtturm), the horror drama about lighthouse keepers in the 1890s that’s got everyone all a-buzz. Although the two movies are totally different, they had me wondering about how madness in men is depicted differently than madness in women in works of art. I immediately thought of the word “hysteria” – which comes from the Greek word “hysterikos, from hystera womb; from the Greek notion that hysteria was peculiar to women and caused by disturbances of the uterus” (thanks Merriam-Webster) – and wondered if there was any equivalent word to describe madness that has etymological roots in perceived male-specific-insanity…

Whoa boy, that was one interesting journey down a Google wormhole! After lots of research and reading plenty of reviews of THE LIGHTHOUSE, with titles like “Let me try and explain what happened in THE LIGHTHOUSE” (because everyone has a different interpretation of what was going on in that surreal, sexual, violent psychodrama), I decided that, although there is quite plausibly (an antiquated Victorian) connection between the lunacy that overtakes the men in that movie and a mid-to-late 19th-century phenomenon of linking men’s sexual “dysfunctions” or tendency to masturbate with madness, these pages are perhaps not the place to delve into this in detail! Madness, men, masturbation…and mermaids, oh my! Rest assured, should this have piqued your curiosity, Google is ready to take you into the world of outdated theories on masculine hysteria! And do go see THE LIGHTHOUSE if you haven’t already: it’s too bizarre to miss, and you’re sure to have yet another theory about what causes the men in this movie to act mad. Just don’t pin it on the mermaid figure – she may or may not be a siren, driving men to madness, but there’s no need to blame women for driving men crazy when they’re perfectly capable of doing it on their own!

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