“The Mad Women’s Ball” Delves Into History Behind Misogynistic Medical Culture

You know the drill – a chilling story of a woman unjustly institutionalized by her pious family.


It’s a story that has been re-interpreted time and time again. A young woman refuses to conform to traditional societal “norms”, men are threatened, so dub the woman as “crazy” – and before we know it, she is wrongly imprisoned in an asylum, against her will. It’s a tale that has been regurgitated through countless fictional books and T.V shows. 

French Amazon original feature film, “The Mad Women’s Ball” – directed by Mélanie Laurent is the latest addition to the canon of films that explore “female hysteria”. Based on Victoria Mas’ novel of the same name, the cinematic thriller is set in 1885, and follows Eugénie Cléry (Lou de Laâge), a sophisticated yet rebellious French girl who happens to see dead people. Her witchy behavior poses an inexplicable threat to her father, who commits her to a sinister psychiatric ward – the infamous – and real life – Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital. 

The institution is the place where women who are deemed “unsuitable” for public life would be “hospitalized” and subjected to clinical surveillance. In case you didn’t already know, by “clinical surveillance” we mean cruel, unethical treatments that are imposed by leading neurologist, Dr. Charcot (Grégoire Bonnet). 

Finding herself amongst other “mad” women, Eugénie must take it upon herself to maintain what’s left of her sanity and seek justice against the men who claim to be looking after her. Prodded, poked and studied – the women in this film are treated like a bunch of playthings that are merely used as a form of entertainment for the chauvinistic realm of neuroscientists. 

Shedding a light on the misogynistic origins of medicine at large, the film highlights the significance of “hysteria” as a term that was used to condemn females back in the Middle Ages, before becoming a prominent part of European culture during the 19th century. A particularly disturbing scene is the grotesque costume “ball” in which the public are invited to come and gawk at these “mad” women in spectacle – all of whom are in costume. 

A cross between Shutter Island and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – “The Mad Women’s Ball” plays on the concept of sanity, exploring what it means to be a woman that dares to be different, when locked up in a patriarchal institution. With other dystopian dramas such as The Handmaid’s Tale exploring similar themes of oppression, there is no doubt that this Amazon original will be a comparable success, gripping viewers with its uncomfortable but weirdly fascinating storyline. 

After all, a plot that opens with discrimination against a woman can only end one way, right? The female protagonist must ultimately free herself from a male-centric world, ridding herself of trauma and becoming empowered in her own right. 


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