One of our fabulous Twitter followers recently saw the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. This is what she had to say about it…
Fifty shades of grey review
By Kit Majka
The tagline read “Curious?”, and I have to admit I was.
It wasn’t excitement, or even the most basic sexual curiosity that compelled me to buy tickets for opening night, but rather an obsessive need to see this franchise through. I read the series – the entire trilogy, because no matter my impatience with the pinnacle of poor writing or my horror at the content, I know the basic rule of hating and debating is to educate yourself with the material.
In a similar vein, fans of the series continue to claim that Christian “gets better” by book three. I had also seen a few people who had gone to advance screenings of the movie claim that the abusive elements of the book had been all but eradicated on-screen. Incidentally, both of these claims prove to be untrue, and because of my experience with the former, I figured I’d best test the latter as well.
By the time the credits rolled, my initial reaction is best described as follows: The grandfatherly type sitting next to me had spent much of the two hours muttering “Hmm” in tones of intrigue, concern, and confusion, sentiments which I emulated. He was like a metaphor for my own experience watching the film.
My intrigue was due solely to the performances. Dakota Johnson gives a rather riveting one, adding humor and depth to the otherwise dull, lifeless, and absurdly named Anastasia Steele. As pleasantly surprised as I was, though, I was often distracted by her haircut, all the while wondering who let their six-year-old take the safety scissors to Johnson’s bangs.
Meanwhile, Jamie Dornan’s brow remains stoically furrowed throughout the film, giving him a look of preoccupation that I’m sure is due to his concern about his professional reputation, or perhaps worry that his American accent doesn’t quite take. (It doesn’t.)
It is painfully clear that the actors don’t much care for each other or the project they’re working on. Cue the lack of sexual tension that the audience is forced to sit through when they’ve been promised erotica. Although, considering the source material doesn’t deliver on that so much as it does on the unhealthy, abusive relationship, we probably shouldn’t have expected much.
Also much like the book, the scenes that don’t focus on Christian and Ana are rushed – a film adaptation of endless page breaks that make Christian’s behavior seem even more erratic and almost comical. In fact, for about the first quarter of the movie, I was sure the filmmakers had succeeded in creating a dark comedy, whether intentional or not.
Christian’s initial indecisiveness is so truly laughable, it almost seems a parody of the source material, a theory that would perhaps come to a more satisfying fruition had E.L. James’s presence on set been more limited. As it is, James – who is as controlling and deaf to criticism as her romantic hero – was in fact a producer who caused much on-set trouble. Considering her Mean Girls attitude when she deals with her critics, I can’t say I’m surprised, but rather even more curious as to how the movie would have turned out if James had behaved like a self-respecting, professional author and relinquished her baby to people who actually know what they’re doing.
After all, much of the film stays true to the book, a fact which would have undoubtedly remained without James, due to the series’ immense fan following. True, Ana’s “inner goddess” and her dubiously named “subconscious” do not make an appearance (for which I was disappointed, as I had been hoping for an homage to Lizzie McGuire’s cartoonish inner monologues), but the removal of pseudo-characters won’t break the box office. The film was an instant moneymaker, and if you want the audience to come back for the sequels, you’ll give them what they want. And what the fans want is their Christian Grey, untainted in all of his controlling, possessive, and abusive glory.
Let’s take Ana’s trip to the bar, for instance. Ana drunk-dials Christian to complain about his should-I-shouldn’t-I? attitude towards her (a bit of dialogue that Dakota Johnson knocks out of the park, making this jaunt to the theater worthwhile for all of thirty seconds). Naturally, after she hangs up, Christian immediately calls back and delivers the swoon-worthy “I know where you are. I’m coming to get you.”
Keeping in mind that the two have met three times, twice in professional settings and once at Ana’s job, and because Ana is a fully capable adult out with her trusted friends, Christian’s reaction is totally unwarranted. Not to mention the ominous undertones of his declaration – “Even though you just made your frustration with me perfectly clear and did not disclose your location or ask for my help, I know where you are and am coming to get you” – well, I half-expected a plot twist in which Christian turns out to be Ghostface.
But, like most of my hopes for this movie, that plot twist doesn’t come to pass, and I’m forced to move on to the next scene in which Christian berates Ana for acting like a college senior. We have yet to feel any sexual tension between the two, and I’ve really given up until, for no reason and in one fluid motion, Christian pulls his shirt over his head, glides panther-like across the bed towards Ana, and… rips her toast in half with his teeth. (At this point, my friend Lauren told me later, she was ready to throw her hands up and walk out of the theater in pure exasperation at the ridiculousness of the movie thus far.)
Why I actually expected any quality from this film is a testament to what remains of my childlike naïveté that insists that humanity is, at its core, a good and benevolent thing.
I did continue to have some hope. After all, twice we are treated to a zoomed-in shot of Ana pressing a Grey House pencil against her lip, which I can only assume is a direct metaphor for Christian’s pencil dick. Which would probably explain some of his extreme desire to prove his masculinity, and why neither he nor Ana appear to orgasm in any of the sex scenes.
Of course, staying true to the book’s vision, we also get treated to Christian’s “kinky fuckery” (a line which was thankfully stricken from the script). The Red Room of Pain is filled with equipment that, for the most part, goes unused throughout the film, a good thing when you remember that Christian fails to explain any of this to Ana before unlocking the door and letting her in. (How can anyone consent without knowing what they’re consenting to? is a recurring theme here.) He attempts to finger her under the table during dinner with his parents. He shows up once again, unasked, to Ana’s apartment, ties her up and has otherwise vanilla sex with her that neither of them seem to enjoy, perhaps because the actors’ disdain for each other was just too much to overcome.
For all of Christian’s so-disturbing-it-borders-on-humorous behavior in the film, there are two scenes in particular that hit a speed bump on the humor and catapult us right back into the abusive nature of the book.
To begin, we have Ana’s first experience with Christian the Dom (however inaccurate that title may be when applied to this twisted caricature of what BDSM actually is). It’s a rather light experience, in which Christian spanks Ana a couple of times because she rolled her eyes at him. Immediately after she sits up straight, Christian leaves with hardly an explanation and certainly no aftercare. However light the experience, aftercare is essential, and yet Christian abandons Ana to deal with her feelings on her own.
But what really got to me about this scene is Ana’s phone call with her mother once Christian is gone. She is tearfully unable to tell her mother whether or not Christian makes her happy, and ultimately says that their relationship is “complicated.” If your partner leaves you confused, upset, and unsure of what your relationship is, that’s a red flag if I ever saw one.
And then we come to the end scene, the one those of us who have read the books expect to be upsetting (although fans and critics will say it’s for different reasons). Per Ana’s request, Christian takes her into the Red Room of Pain to show her exactly how much his version of BDSM can hurt – not for Ana’s pleasure, but for her punishment should Christian deem her worthy of it. There is no mention of Ana’s limits, no discussion, and the end result is truly horrifying. All throughout the aftermath of Ana’s beating – it’s not spanking, it’s not pleasurable, it’s cruel and unnecessary – she is forced to tell Christian to “stop” and “don’t,” she is hurt and confused and he offers no explanation but intense puppy eyes and “This is the way I am.”
Excuse me while I call bullshit on this whole thing.
I wanted the first quarter of the movie back – the erratic pacing, the ridiculous dialogue, the accidental parody. It is so much easier to mock the absurd than it is to face the actual danger and trauma that lies in the foundation of Fifty Shades of Grey.
“Curious?” Well, yes, I was. But perhaps a better, more apt tagline would have read “Run.” But that’s what you get when an author-turned-producer is so outspokenly unconcerned about the dangerous themes of her work because, as her Twitter bio reads: “Author of the Fifty Shades Trilogy: a LOVE story.”
The lady doth protest too much, methinks. But I suppose coming from an author who can’t properly define “subconscious,” it should come as no surprise to me that she doesn’t really know what love looks like, either.