It was mere hours before I left for my screening of the film adaptation of the popular novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” that I learned something interesting: the book actually began as fan fiction for the “Twilight” franchise. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Something so badly written, even when compared to its already rather insipid inspiration, surely couldn’t have come from a professional. As I recall sitting on the beach reading a handful of pages out loud to my father and brother-in-law, all three of us laughing maniacally at its overt and ridiculous sexuality while the true member of my family actually reading that nonsense walked the beach, it now seems obvious. Early reviews have stated that the story translates better to the screen than the page, but that’s like saying fiber foods translate to a better bowel movement than Taco Bell. At the end of the day, they’re both still crap.
And swimming in it is Anastasia (Dakota Johnson), a young college student who has landed an interview with business mogul, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). As she walks through the halls of his company, women parading by in sexy outfits while she dons a more conservative dress, her insecurity shines through. The moment she steps through the door of Grey’s office, which must be no more than five minutes into the film, she becomes a gooey, blubbering mess, as she articulates her insecurity by pointing out how she couldn’t possibly fit in at his company with all the pretty women around. And this is where “Fifty Shades of Grey” starts to more aptly explore the fifty shades of a sexual predator.
As should be widely known at this point, Christian’s sexual desires are, let’s say, less traditional, which is fine, but it’s the way he manipulates Anastasia and feeds into her notion of what love and romance can be that should set off alarms for anyone with even a minor sense of morality. Anastasia is vulnerable and, as he spins the interview around to force her into her own admissions, he begins to sense it and starts planning his sexual attack, like a predator stalking its prey.
You see, Anastasia is a virgin and she longs for love. Outside of family and friends, she has never truly felt the embrace of someone who truly cares about her. It’s this lack of sexual and romantic experience that ultimately fuels Christian’s disgusting seduction. After explaining his desires to her—she must be a total submissive to his sexual dominance, which includes physical punishments should she disobey him—and finding out she’s a virgin, his response isn’t that she’s not ready for such a commitment. No, it’s more along the lines of, “Where have you been all this time?” He then proceeds to rectify the situation and makes passionate love to her.
This would be all well and good, except for the fact that his “rules”—he won’t take her to dinner, he won’t sleep in the same bed and, most importantly, she’s not allowed to touch him—expressly forbid such an action. In this moment, he uses her sexual inexperience and her desire to find love to lure her into his sexual deceit. After that fateful night, she thinks she’s in love and that he loves her back, that this is what romance is and can be and she finds it wonderful. So in the following days as he tries to convince her to become his “submissive,” she starts to let go of her hesitation, not because she’s truly interested in exploring her sexual limitations, but because he is using her emotion to make her think she is.
Plain and simple, Christian Grey, is a master manipulator. Like a frat boy who argues he got consent from the nearly blackout drunk girl at a party—which, of course, is not truly consent since the girl isn’t in the right frame of mind to give such a thing—Christian takes advantage of Anastasia, only on a more psychological level. Worse yet, when she says no to being his submissive and cuts the relationship off, he doesn’t accept it and shows up at her place anyway, creepily heading inside her apartment without her knowing, where he ties her down, gives her a bit of wine and has his way with her. Sure, the filmmakers try to make him less of a full-blown rapist (he does ask if she “wants this” prior to actually doing it, to which she replies with a barely audible confirmation), but they fail miserably. Christian is a walking sexual perversion, not because of the type of sex he enjoys, but because of the way he ultimately gets it, playing with Anastasia’s fragile mind until she begins to believe she wants something she doesn’t, not unlike an abused wife blaming herself for her husband’s indiscretions.
Playful though some may think this story is, it isn’t, and it shows the true horrors of such manipulation and abuse in a late scene where Christian gives Anastasia the worst punishment she can receive as a submissive. As she laid there, forced to count out the lashes she was receiving, tears streaming down her face, I could feel a piece of me withering away inside. The act is barbaric and demeaning and it’s extremely uncomfortable to watch, worse than the worst rape scene I’ve ever witnessed in a film, but without the meaningful context to back it up.
If you’ve read this far, it will come as no surprise that “Fifty Shades of Grey” is not subtle (“Now you can’t escape,” Christian says to Anastasia as he straps her into a helicopter, implying something a bit more disturbing beneath those surface words) and the dialogue is so insipid that it comes as a shock to the brain every time a character utters a word above three syllables. At one point, Christian threatens to bend Anastasia over his knee for rolling her eyes, a moment I missed as my eyes were themselves rolling so far in the back of my head that I nearly put myself into a catatonic state. Its visuals are similarly bad, particularly in the grey color scheme that makes you wonder if the filmmakers perhaps took the “fifty shades” part of the title a bit too literally.
But none of that matters when you have a movie that is so unaware of its own tone that it blindly tries to make abuse sexy. Even the best aspects of the film are overshadowed by it, particularly the good performance from Johnson, who does all she can with such a flat character. Of course, I’m no prude. If two grown adults can consent to a sexual lifestyle of BDSM, then more power to them, but make no mistake, the actions portrayed in “Fifty Shades of Grey” are not consensual, no matter what the filmmakers, like Mr. Grey himself, want you to believe.
Fifty Shades of Grey receives 0/5