I was slightly looking forward to this, I had no idea what it was really about and rather assumed it would be lame pseudo erotica aimed at middle aged bored women who would never contemplate typing ‘porn’ into Google in case they went straight to hell, and wouldn’t work out out how to turn off the safe search even if they did, and for that reason I figured it might be quite amusing. Wrong. What this is, is a deeply disturbing and cynical attempt to make its creators rich and nothing more. Christian Grey seduces the young and virginal Anastasia Steele, except he wants to control her and requests she sign a contract that will allow him to keep her as his willing and obedient slave, all amidst the familiar romantic trope of ‘the pretty girl will melt the bitter male’s heart and he will not make her his slave, but will be saved by love and have a normal relationship’. As with a lot of such fare, like ‘Pretty Woman’ (90) or myriad concepts of Prince Charming, the male character is abundantly rich, meaning that not only will the girl have all the material pleasures and comforts her heart desires, but that he is also able to effectively spend every waking second making her the centre of his rather unreal universe.
Criminally, this is all pasted together with an over abundance of pop songs, trying as much as possible to make it appear like a traditional Hollywood romantic outing for the leads Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson. In reality, there are extremely serious issues at play here and they are glossed over to the max – Grey has obviously been the victim of abuse in his early life, and it’s probable his domination of women has more to do with trying to deal with being physically unable to defend himself in the past, it has absolutely nothing to do with romance and not even all that much to do with sex, and for once all the people complaining about this before its release are actually bang on the money – it does endorse rape culture and it absolutely sends out a hideous and contorted message to women young enough to be receptive to its media pop culture sheen.
This is acutely summed up when Grey impatiently writes to Anastasia asking her if she’s made up her mind about the contract yet – to which she writes back ‘It was nice knowing you’. A pretty definite thumbs down. His response to this? To break into her flat and show her what he intends to bind her with, which has her eagerly nod her approval and she is promptly tied to the bed and fucked. She doesn’t even bat an eyelid when he appears, nor does she really give assent as her nod is referencing their last experience where her hands were bound together, but she wasn’t herself tied down. We are essentially witnessing a rape but it’s being sold to us as the correct response for a male who’s just been refused by a female.
Even before this, she calls him to leave a drunken message and he flips out at her for being inebriated (loss of control you see) and then he is mysteriously able to find her immediately (they are not together at this point), making it painfully obvious he has made sure he can track her at all times. It doesn’t click with her, of course, because she’s a moron, and in fact the only way author E. L. James could even attempt this story was to make Anastasia a virgin, and so during her abusive treatment she inevitably questions her own self belief and with no positive or normal experience to counterbalance Grey’s attentions her abuser is thus able to exert his full influence. Another hopeless moment is when she asks him to do the absolute worst to her that he can – queue six or so smacks on the ass with an implement, which is an absolutely farcical watering down for the audience of what the worst could really be (if you’ve ever seen Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ from 2013 the most memorable moment is when we see a chunk of flesh come off the behind of a woman being whipped, it’s pretty gross – here I’m not sure there’s even a red mark on Johnson’s unblemished alabaster rump). Anastasia is seen weeping afterward and tells Grey ‘You’ll never do that to me again’, her immediate next line, ‘I love you’. FUCK OFF.
It’s as if the filmmakers are trying to subvert the vulnerable in the audience themselves. If we look at the current IMDB ratings for the film as voted for by the public, we can see a massive polarisation between male and female voters, and what is really interesting is that the older the female voters get, the lower the rating they give. This feeds into the whole sick nature of the film trying to appeal to a demographic of young women in an effort to make money from them, they don’t seem to care if they are also teaching them to put up with abuse and even help create abusive environments (and although E. L. James began writing the story as Twilight fan fiction, I don’t think that’s the reason the IMDB currently recommends all the Twilight films for users who enjoyed this one).
You could very well be looking at the destruction of several careers here, and perhaps deservedly so. The actors have essentially done their job, they don’t have a great deal of chemistry but they are themselves by no means poor in the film. However, watching Johnson on the Oscars red carpet getting upset that her mother, Melanie Griffith, hasn’t seen the film yet suggests very strongly she has no idea what it is even about herself, the perfect victim to sell the film to others – indeed, the previously largely unknown Johnson was even invited to present at the ceremony, which in itself speaks volumes. Dornan has no excuse, and he and most of the others involved with the film were only in it FOR THE MONEY, so, frankly, they deserve to suffer afterward for it. The film has been received so poorly that one can only hope they do not adapt parts two and three of the series as well.