I did it. Last week, late at night after attending a friend’s book launch I wandered down to the Showcase Cinema, bought a (small!) bag of popcorn and sat down to watch Fifty Shades of Grey. With the hype more or less over, there were five people in the room other than myself: a group of three giggly girls and an M/F couple looking shifty and embarrassed. I sat in front of all of them, centre of the row, spread out my bags and coat and watched. And analysed. And thought very, very deeply.
And this is what I think (scroll right to the bottom for the TL:DR version).
The Movie Itself
Taken just as a movie? Not bad. It irks me to say it, but it wasn’t a bad movie. It was filmed well, cut well, lit well. The dialogue lacked in places, but you all know my opinions on the source material so I won’t dig at that too much. The acting was wooden in places, but, given neither actor very much likes or thinks much of the subject matter (if various interviews are to be believed) then is that really much of a surprise? Oh, and there were a little too many close ups of lips, hands and eyes, but I guess, in a movie you’re trying desperately to make sensual, those are the tricks you employ. But alone, with no other considerations, the movie was okay.
Book to Movie Conversion
Since books are so close to me, I figure it’s worth including a word or two about this. I think the movie stayed pretty true to the book. It has been a while since I read the book (or the trilogy as a whole, which I still haven’t finished – shhh!) but I remember the slow build of tension between Ana and Christian, the funny and sassy best friend whose name escapes me and the same recurring sensation of WTHFF when Christian came out with that contract. So yeah . . . it did the job.
As a Representation of the BDSM Culture
Well . . . I think it’s a mistake to hold the book or the movie as a representation of anything. This may be something of a switch to the last time I spoke at length about this franchise, but consider this: E L James wrote a book. A book with which she so was pleased that she self published. Then the big publisher came along. Thousands of us, if not millions of us are doing this with the hopes of getting the results she did. Hell, I’m doing this. And all she did was write the book that she wanted to write. She should be applauded for that at least.
But for people to complain that the Fifty Shades franchise is a poor representation of the BDSM culture, I feel, is a little unfair. E L James isn’t a kinky person, at least from what I’ve read and she doesn’t engage in activities anywhere on the BDSM spectrum. What she wrote wasn’t supposed to be real but a story that she enjoyed with flavours of something that, until she came along, wasn’t all that mainstream. If the book hadn’t exploded in popularity the way it had, then who would have known? I’m sure (well . . . kinda sure) that there are far worse books out there that do an even poorer job of representing people who enjoy BDSM activities.
To answer the core question of the above heading, the movie is a shitty representation of what I understand to be BDSM. Conversations and research have led me to believe that the contract Christian outlines is horrendous (not necessarily in all its content but in it’s delivery and intent) and that constant bouncing between full on aggressive and passive-aggressive behaviour is not indicative of most Dominants on the scene. But as an addendum to that answer, the movie should not be expected to represent BDSM culture.
Knowing what was coming while watching didn’t disrupt the experience in any way. It did make me curious about how the director and actors would handle certain issues and there were occasional instances where I – and I admit this grudgingly – was impressed with what I saw. Most of those instances were those in which Ana displayed a bit of backbone and told Christian to fuck right off. Not that she did this enough, but that’s a character issue. She is young, naive and lonely: she cannot be held wholly responsible for the way things went. Similarly, Christian is manipulative, aggressive and spoilt – y’know, a a prick – but it’s not his fault either. Not entirely.
The whole way through the film I was struck by the way Ana seemed drawn to Christian. Initially it was his looks, then it was his mysteriousness. I’m also fascinated by how obviously terrified of him she is the whole way through. At first it was mere intimidation, going to interview a rich and important man she knew nothing about. Then it was concern over him following her. Then irritation over him trying to control her every move. Following that came the frustration at half-arsed answers to very genuine and necessary questions and Christian’s transparent attempts to weld her to him by constant and extravagant gifts. All different emotions, yes, but at their core: fear. Fear in every single moment she and Christian share together, despite her very clear physical attraction to him.
The next thing to make me lift my eyebrows was how often Ana begged for a ‘normal’ relationship. I growl a little at the phrase anyway, because what the hell IS ‘normal’? I think what she should have said was ‘traditional’, but that’s a debate for another time. But Ana begged and begged and begged and each time Christian’s response was pretty much ‘try it my way, I bet you’ll like it.’ So these are two people with very clear ideas about what they want from a relationship, but neither of them are willing to bend for the other.
So . . . why do it?
And that, folks, is my take away point from watching the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. Nearly two hours of watching two people with their own personal problems desperately trying to fit the other into a mould they were never destined to fit, while making themselves totally miserable in the process. How’s that for a log line?
The ‘Grr, It’s All About Abuse!’ Argument
Christian is an abusive person. Not so much the physical aspects since, if he had a willing submissive who knew what she was getting from the proposed arrangements, there would have been no issue. No, no. Christian is manipulative and passive-aggressive, using intimidation, bribery, self-pity and fear as tools to bring Ana to the point that she felt she had no choice but to say, ‘Show me, then.’ He bullies her constantly, pulls her away from her friends, weedles his way into her family time and never once gives her a moment to breathe or think. If he’s not at her side, he’s texting or emailing her. Someone (and I mean anyone, male or female or gender fluid, whatever – any person!) with the strongest will in the world would have difficulty making proper decisions when faced with that nonsense.
But that’s not what the book is supposed to be about. Nor is that what the movie is about. So to sit in the cinema thinking those thoughts is unfair. So I didn’t. I’m just pointing out the facts in hindsight.
The TL:DR Version
Fifty Shades of Grey is a sad, occasionally funny movie about two people who aren’t supposed to have each other. It’s a fantastic lesson in one simple fact: ‘just because you’re attracted to someone, doesn’t mean you’re supposed to have them.’