Surrender 32: Mesmer

I came across this movie recently as I was searching for Alan Rickman films that I’ve missed. It’s a historical piece, set in Vienna in the 18th century, and I was unfamiliar with it. When it popped up again this afternoon, I decided to watch just a few minutes of the movie, to get a feel for it. I was especially intrigued by the subtitle on a movie poster: “Look into his eyes, and surrender the secrets of your soul.” That was very much an invitation!


I was more than intrigued, after watching for a few minutes, and settled in to view the entire film. 

Mesmer stars Alan Rickman, Gillian Barge, Amanda Ooms and Martin Schwab. The 1994 biography/drama was directed by Roger Spottiswoode and has a run time of 1 hour and 47 minutes. The movie is unrated, however, I’d give it a PG-13 rating, for adult themes. 

Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer (Rickman) is a physician in 18th century Vienna, who uses unconventional methods for bringing relief to the ill. Whether the suffering are plagued by physical or mental disorders, Dr. Mesmer believes that the patients have some responsibilities, both for their diseases and their cures. 


He employs what he terms “animal magnetism”, an invisible fluid that courses through all living creatures, to confront illness or dis-ease in the body, bringing about an eventual cure. Mesmer has learned to use the magnetism that runs through his own body to begin the healing process in another. 

However, virtually everyone, including Mesmer’s wife (Barge), believes the doctor to be a fraud, a charlatan, engaging the patient’s imagination with his own charisma, rather than creating true healing. At a time when blood letting was the most oft used course of treatment for all illnesses, Mesmer’s techniques seemed more magical than medical. 

Mesmer has the opportunity to fully use his unorthodox practices on young pianist Maria Theresa Paradies (Ooms), who has suffered from blindness and fits of severe pain since early childhood. Maria’s abusive father (Schwab), who does not want his daughter to be healed, seeks to have Mesmer ostracized from Vienna. No one, from the haughty medical community, to Mesmer’s jealous wife, believes in the amazing claims the doctor makes, even when it appears that Maria regains her sight. 

Is he a charlatan, a fraud…or a genius? 

This was a fascinating movie. I was so curious about whether the story was based on fact, that I paused about 2/3 of the way through, and did research. Franz Mesmer was an actual person, who did propose his theory of an invisible force that could be transferred between living beings and even inanimate objects. He was totally misunderstood and his theories never proven, even though a council that included American Benjamin Franklin studied his techniques and attempted to identify the invisible fluid that Mesmer spoke of.

 The real Franz Mesmer.  

I recognized that Mesmer, whose methods created the word “mesmerize”, was familiar with and used energy flow. He called it an invisible fluid and magnetism, which is an accurate way to describe chi, or the life energy that flows through us all. His manner of using his own hands to direct that invisible force, bringing healing to others, is very similar to the practice of reiki. 

Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Dr. Mesmer created deep sympathy within me. As a boy, Franz saw the harmony in nature and the disharmony, in mind and body, of humans. That imbalance, he believed, led to many of the ailments that people suffered from. “How could I not try to help?” he asked. 


Mesmer believed that the eyes could see inwardly, as well as outwardly, and that each person must begin the journey toward healing by gazing inside first.  He didn’t offered immediate healing. He knew it was a day by day journey. However many who sought him out were disillusioned when their afflictions weren’t instantly cured. Mesmer appeared to live in the moment, knowing that past trauma could result in disorders and that trying to live in the future created anxieties of the mind and spirit. Sadly, he was way ahead of his time, in his thoughts and beliefs. And truthfully, even by today’s medical standards,  his energy practices would still be considered unconventional by many. 

This is a film, a story, that will stay with me for a long time. I truly was…well…mesmerized by Mesmer, and appreciative of his work, his heart and his vision. I’ll never again hear that word that’s synonymous with enchantment, without thinking of Dr. Franz Mesmer.