The much anticipated film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Gray is not the hedonistic raunchfest it was purported to be. There were a few hot scenes and a lot of talking, so if you’re single and perverted like me and were hoping to live vicariously through the big screen on Valentine’s Day, this film may not have made the cut. Voyeurism aside, I was disappointed to discover that this tale was not one of an inexperienced girl who embarks on a romance with a successful, hot, and kinky man, but of a girl who settles for a quasi-relationship, or situationship - as one of my favorite blogs BGAE calls it - with a successful, hot, man who is cray cray.
So why is it so popular? As scintillating and boundary pushing as the movie is not (Game of Thrones is more graphic), it presents an opportunity for women to enjoy celebrating their sexuality in a safe dark public space and explore any latent curiosity about butt plugs. More importantly, the narrative indulges women’s deepest adolescent fantasy/delusion that you can make a man who doesn’t want a relationship change his mind. The fantasy that whatever worthless individual you’re having relations with who won’t even take you to Red Lobster will realize you’re a precious birthday gemstone and whisk you away to Venice for a wedding that rivals Amal Clooney’s is a pipe dream, but a compelling one.
The protagonist of film is Anastasia Steele (Get it? Her last name is a shade of gray), a virginal senior in college. She meets Christian Gray, 27-year-old billionaire CEO of Gray Industries, while interviewing him for a student publication. What does Grey Industries make? I don't know – cash-money evidently. Christian comes off as controlling and douchey in the interview, but he wears the hell out of a suit so obviously it’s time to fall in love.
Like most healthy relationships in 2015, their professional encounter progresses into expensive gifts and stalking. Soon after they meet Christian shows up to the hardware store where Ana works to buy rope and intimidate her male coworkers. Later he surprises her at the bar where she's drinking with age appropriate friends, publicly chastises her for being drunk, and whisks her away to his hotel room. Ana is completely intoxicated and unable to give consent, so like a gentlemen he takes of all her clothes and sleeps in the bed with her, because that’s fine.
After this normal start, Christian reveals that he wants Ana to enter an exclusive contractual agreement to be his sexual submissive. According to the contract, she would spend her weekends locked away in his mansion like a house elf and allow him to enact any sado-masochistic sex acts upon her he desires. This includes whips, chains, nipple clamps, rope, harnesses, sex swings, and tickling with a peacock feather that looks like my earrings from Aldo. Ana, no different from many women, ignores these red flags at first because she is horny and/or wants a boyfriend.
Unlike men, women are rarely encouraged to separate love from sex. Such is the value we're taught to place on male attention that it can be hard for us to even put narcissists with big penises in a different category than kinder, perhaps shorter men who make devoted husbands. We often seek love and relationships from both groups because if we really said, ‘Hey you can tickle me with a cheap earring on the weekends but I'm ashamed to introduce you to my family,' then society would label us as (complicated and human just like men) slutty. Thus Ana gets sucked into Christian’s sexy borderline personality disorder allure. It’s painful to watch but we enjoy it, sort of. (...Like a nipple clamp?) Watching our heroine successfully tame the emotionally abusive dude with that V shaped pelvic bone thingy is like having the best of both worlds: reckless hot sex with a man you should actually avoid, and a conventional relationship that society approves of.
The rest of the movie consists of Ana asking Christian to be her boyfriend, or asking why he is being mean. His answers are something to the effect of ‘Naw bitch I told you I don’t do girlfriends,’ and ‘My mother was a crackhead so I don’t have feelings.” These interactions pushed the movie into the realm of comedy - I just couldn’t stop laughing at everything - and I wasn’t alone.
I laughed when I realized this skeleton of a plot is going to go on for two more films and is apparently meant to be suspenseful. I was bemused that the contract demands that Ana agree to sleep with Christian exclusively and start a birth control pill dispensed by a doctor of his choosing but has no mention of whether he has to be monogamous for Ana’s health and safety. I chortled when Christian delivers the commencement address at Ana’s graduation and won’t give her the damn diploma without causing a scene on stage. That he was handing out diplomas at all…doesn’t the university President do that, versus rich celebrities? Lastly, I almost fell out when Christian flies across the country to show up at her Momma’s house unannounced because he’s mad she planned a trip without his pre-approval, although he’s not her boyfriend because he was an orphan and blah blah… #wheretheydothatat. C’mon man, don’t scare my Mom. Anyone who has ever turned on Lifetime knows these behaviors are not romantic, but frightening. Jealousy and possessiveness don't mean a man loves you, they mean will probably kill you and your Mom. Run girl.
To the film’s credit, Ana does have an arc that’s pleasant to watch. She advocates for what she wants - a reciprocal relationship instead of sex slavery - and crosses out nipple clamps from terms of the contract. For this entire first installation of the Lord of The Butt Plugs Trilogy at least, she refuses to sign the contract. If I haven’t made it clear, I have no issue with the sexual content in the film and balk at the number of articles I’ve seen condemning BDSM outright and calling it unnatural. People can dress up like Pikachu and get it on as long as it’s consensual. Just yesterday I was reading about a hermaphrodite lichen that impregnates itself to reproduce, brought to you by the wilderness. So natural is relative. I was merely disappointed however, that the story glamorizes disturbing behavior outside of the bedroom.
I have to believe that Fifty Shades of Gray was purposefully campy in tone. Still, I longed for a better storyline, even if for the fluffy soft porn anthem of my generation. There are so few female centered films being made, just once I’d love the chance to rally around something titillating, fun, and sex positive where the heroine gets with someone worthy of her time, like Fifty Pages of The Notebook. Fifty Shades can stand in for now I suppose, but I’ll heretofore refer to it as an allegorical warning fable about sketchy dudes, not a romantic fantasy anyone should aspire to.