The Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon feels like something of a bad rash. I know I should leave it alone and eventually it will go away but for the life of me I can’t stop scratching at it.
I think this is because:
1. It represents a sub-culture that aren’t really represented in the mainstream eye and does such a poor and inaccurate job of it.
2. It glamorises frankly dangerous and inappropriate behaviour and puts it on a pedestal.
So I admit, I decided to watch Fifty Shades of Grey because I like to know what I’m talking about when I get into discussions with people about it. And also so I could spare you guys the torture of watching it yourselves.
So, let us begin.
The first thing that struck me was the film is actually not as bad as the books with regards to the above points. I mean, it still fails in many, many ways but the film actually puts a nicer focus on some of the key issues that felt kind of undermined in the book, such as consent. One of the things that I really like about the books is that, even though it does it badly and somewhat dangerously, it has encouraged a dialogue about sex and encouraged people to try new things. If the film can start taking positive steps in the right direction then I think that’s a good thing. Although it still has a long, long way to go.
From a film fan, the film is kind of poorly made. The writing is cheesy in a way that meant I was laughing at things I probably shouldn’t be laughing at. Couple this with the fact that Dakota Johnson apparently has a clitoris for a face (seriously, the way it reacts to the slightest touch/stimuli as though it’s the sexist thing ever) and that Jamie Dornan’s ‘I’m studying you intently because it’s really sexy and I’m clearly such a sex god’ face looks like he is seriously constipated, means that so much of the key dialogue is just really entertaining in all the wrong ways. I’m pretty sure the script looked something like this:
Christian: (pouts) I’m bad. Ana: (bites lip sensually) I kind of like that but I want to change you anyway.
Christian: (UBER POUTS) What about now? Now I’m really pouting. Ana: (Inner goddess has sensual orgasm showed only by the intensity of her facial expression)
But we can forgive the bad dialogues because there is going to be some really steamy sex scenes right? Well, not really because the two actors have about as much chemistry as a dry fish on land. It makes their scenes super awkward and uncomfortable, almost like the knowledge that your parents had sex. The one thing I will say for the film is that I LOVE the soundtrack. The music is really great and fits perfectly. I also love the re-do of ‘Crazy in Love’.
So. Onto the fun bit. The kinky fuckery, the red room of pain, the BDSM. Did I like it in this film?
Of course not. It’s still quite badly done and inaccurately portrayed and the characters are not people that should be practising BDSM at all. I’ll admit though, I was surprised by how I found myself reacting. I was already to finish the film with an angry feminist voice about how awful Mr Grey is etc etc but to be honest, after the first half, I found myself getting steadily more annoyed with Ana.
In the first half, Christian is a prick. He stalks her and finds her at work by tracking her phone. It’s only the third time of meeting when he says “If you were mine, you would’t be able to sit for a week.” because she went out with her friends. That is seriously not ok. In the first instance she’s allowed to have a life. In the second, if they had some agreed upon dynamic where she had consented to being punished for certain behaviours then it might be OK but at this point, BDSM hasn’t even been mentioned. It’s a threat, because she has a life. Not cool, not sexy. At all.
The second thing that hugely annoyed me is despite his repeated allusions to a dark secret and particular appetite, I’m not really impressed with how he told her what he’s into. She is whisked off in a helicopter to Seattle and he tells her several times before showing her the red room of pain that she can get back in the helicopter any time. I REALLY don’t understand why you would fly someone to a nearby city and then show them. Ask any enthusiast of BDSM and they will tell you how important communication is so why on earth did he not have this conversation with her in an environment where she would feel safe? It strikes me as a really nasty piece of coercion to take her out of her comfort zone and reveal it to her.
I also don’t appreciate that they don’t approach aftercare. Aftercare is a hugely important aspect of BDSM and I don’t like it that this isn’t mentioned at all. Please, for the love of God, look into this before engaging in BDSM. Regardless of whether you are top or bottom. He leaves her after her first punishment and she ends up crying. I can’t say I blame her, a good Dominant should understand the emotional impact of a punishment on their submissive. That said he did say from the outset that he didn’t do the staying over night thing.
For the most part though, that’s where I feel his especially poor behaviour ends. He out lines everything to her about what he feels he needs and would like. They negotiate and he makes compromises. He tells her to do her research, he wants her to know what she’s getting into. Before they play, he makes sure she knows safe words. HUGE brownie points because he uses the traffic light system which I love. It’s a very common system in the BDSM world and one I hugely recommend. Simply put:
Red: I need to stop right now and be looked after. Amber: Please stop what you are doing, but I’m ok to continue with the scene. Green: The one word equivalent of “YES, YES, OHH YES!!”
Putting the creepy stalking aside, this isn’t a bad demonstration of how to get into BDSM. There are things I don’t like, but you know, my kink doesn’t have to be your kink and vice versa.
Ana, on the other hand, is the perfect example of how not to do it. Grey is pretty honest about how he feels and his wants and needs without f0rgetting boundaries. Ana could learn a lot from this. I think it’s good to be open and explore and push your limits but you have to be able to say what you like and what you don’t. At the end of the film, a scene goes too far for her and she takes it out on him and it’s drama and disaster. At no point did she utter a safe word. In fact she asked him to do it in the first place. She has got to take responsibility for her actions, not just as a kinkster but as an adult. Despite all his shitty behaviour in the book, nice one to Christian for being a responsible dominant and stopping when he realised his submissive was in trouble.
She repeatedly expects him to change and to be ‘fixed’ in places where he isn’t broken. She accuses him of being come to me, leave me, come to me. But she herself is yes do this.. oh you’re a terrible person for doing it. It’s nasty, cruel and emotionally manipulative behaviour and it is not any more acceptable than Christian’s stalking earlier in the film.
Overall, despite the many things I dislike about the film and the many things it got wrong, I still feel like the film is taking steps in the right direction compared to the book. Yes, it’s poorly made and its inaccuracies make me feel like it should come with ‘don’t try this at home’ warning but we’re taking steps in the right direction and that is a small victory.