A Review of Fifty Shades of Grey, The Movie
For weeks, if not months, the temperature surrounding the hype of the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey movie has risen so drastically, one could only hope for a cool glass of water or to actually go see the movie so their hype, on a personal level at least, could be quelled. The day finally came — Friday, February 14, 2015 — the movie was released to the theaters for public viewing.
As a lifestyle submissive, passionate about my kink craft, I expected to go into this movie with some of my preconceived notions firmly against my hip — unmovable, nondetachable and unchangeable. What I didn’t realize was how many presumptions of mine would be dimmed by some of the brighter lights of this movie and how many others I’d never considered would surface.
The pre-movie buzz was all over the place. The vanilla crowd was split between a few major factions. There was the “50 SHADES IS ABUSE – DON’T SUPPORT IT!” movement. Then there were the typical “Ew, spanking is above my freak level” vanillas (this group, I would imagine, comprised the majority of the movie goers). Lastly, the group that, in noise level, rivaled the “50SHADESABUSE” crowd, was comprised of v-types who at least are not totally against lighter kinky activities such as spanking, but they often claim the title of “freaky,” proclaim how much of the lifestyle they are into (kink-wise, but really not), yet typically denounce things like submission and service to another, especially when it involves actual research, study, learning, practicing and evolving into the kinksphere (as opposed to “freaky” living which requires no more than using one’s parts with, for, or around someone else’s freaky parts).
The kinky crowd was also widely split before the holiday release of this movie. Crowd 1 joined in with the “abuse” faction and denounced everything 50 Shades, vowing never to step a foot into the theaters to see the movie. An overlapping crowd of “50 Shades is trash, poorly written and is not BDSM!” folks also made their debut. Then there was the quiet crowd… the ones who didn’t speak either for or against the movie.
I am (was) a part of that last group. I never made statements claiming the greatness or horror I expected to see in the movie. My angst has been limited to the very small early bit of E. L. James’ writing in the book along with snippets I’ve read. I own a digital copy of the book. I have not read enough of it to even claim I can make solid, valid statements regarding it’s legitimacy against the lifestyle. I can, however, attest to some of the effects the last of the trilogy has had.
The “this is not BDSM!” kink crowd, I’ve found, want very much to distance BDSM as they know it — the real life, really lived, non-fantasy based lifestyle — from the semblance of BDSM received from the novel. FSoG represents kink-inspired fiction written by a non-kinky person who, by way of research but never fully understanding (because researching it and living it are two greatly different things when it comes to kink), was able to toss in enough keywords and similarities to WIITWD (what it is that we do, an acronym familiar to lifestylers) that she was able to create a brand new fantasy fad that grates against much of what we live and know to be true.
Suddenly, those who have adopted BDSM as a part of their lives, some living it 24/7, and engage in kink activities regularly, were thrust into a murky pool of “come one, come all” — anyone who even so much as thought of using a blindfold during sex was now diving head first into the water. This made for an uncomfortable swim, particularly for those who have dedicated immeasurable passion to their craft.
It’s no wonder the backlash against the book (whether it was read or not) and the movie (whether it had been seen or not) was, and still is, so impressive.
Sir bought our tickets around lunch time for a 10:30pm showing. I informed him the theaters might be sold out because of all the hype of the movie, plus I’d heard of this possibility some days before the release. We decided to arrive at the theater as close to 10pm as possible so we could procure our favorite spot. Oddly, the theater complex which holds 12 screens, didn’t seem to have the long line outside I’d expected. The lobby inside was equally lacking in bodies. We were able to walk right up to the ticket taker and into the theater, finding our favorite seats.
We sat patiently waiting for the previews to begin, surveying the crowd to see if there were any other kinky couples in attendance, not that we, the kinky, can be spotted on sight. But a big emblem on the back of someone’s jacket or a pretty collar around a sub’s neck would have made us turn to each other and nod knowingly.
While we didn’t witness anything or anyone outwardly “kinky,” we were greatly surprised at just how immature the attendees in general seemed to be. I don’t mean immature by chronological age, but by adult standards. The first sign was two grown women who came in, stood in the aisle and giggled, almost poking at each other in a dare to be the first to enter the theater fully. They presented like 2 youngsters walking into an adult toy store for the first time, laughing and pointing at edible panties.
The noise before the movie began was louder than usual. It was a nervous chatter that was unfamiliar to me, like a room full of people making sounds to distract themselves from their anxiety.
I found it quite unfortunate that this low roar continued for quite some time through the movie. The random conversations were one thing, but the incessant giggling that peaked every time a boob or butt cheek appeared on the screen made us feel as though we were among the greatly sexually repressed.
I could have been more sensitive as a kinky lifestyler, as I also noticed how the audience erupted into “yeah baby” type sounds when the female lead appeared to be worn out after an involved sex/play scene. While the (obviously?) vanilla crowd saw this as a post-sex tap out, I saw it as post-play subspace.
From the very earliest scenes of the movie, I was immediately put into Secretary mode. Many a’kinkster will remember that movie. While it was far from the first kink-inspired, kink-involved film, and no matter what poor portrayals it may have given us, it was a memorable piece.
I remember the first time I saw it. The year was 2002. The theater was the type with soft, slightly reclining, rocking seats. They sold the standard movie fare… popcorn, Skittles, etc. They also sold beer and wine. I went to the movie alone that evening. Secretary was only shown in a few venues across the country, and finding this spot was a special treat for a submissive like me, still relatively young to the lifestyle. The storyline, while leaving a thing or two to be desired, spoke to me in profound ways. In fact, I saw it at this same theater again within a few days.
Secretary begins with a young lady who is shy, naive and relatively inexperienced in life. She doesn’t have any set plans in mind for her future and is simply hopeful of making it through her current moment in life. For Lee Holloway, the co-star, it means no longer participating in self-harm and living happily in spite of her tumultuous home life. She falls into a new opportunity which lands her square in the grasp of a man by the name of Mr. Grey, E. Edward Grey. He is a reluctant dominant whose excitement is due, in part, to the fact he just caught virgin prey in his web — a virgin to things of the kink realm.
FSoG begins with a young Anastasia Steele who is also relatively inexperienced in life. She states her primary goal is to “just make it through finals.” A rather plain, unassuming Anastasia falls into the space of a man by the name of Mr. Grey, Christian Grey, a dominant who is also cloaked in mystery and defiant self-discovery.
Both female characters begin as simply dressed, doe eyed, awe-struck women who transition into more glamorously dressed, seductive eyed women of assumed confidence, submissives to their Mr. Grey. The male characters appear to be outwardly successful, desirable men, yet they are both fighting demons from their past all while attempting to secure a safe mental & emotional dominant space. Both women coyly used a line similar to “are you going to fuck/make love to me” while both men, in spite of having an air of confidence, displayed a great fear of being perceived as weirdly perverted, Christian Grey even shouting the line, “I’m so 50 shades of fucked up!”
Of note, both male characters were submissive to a previous woman in their life, and those women still played a part in the mens’ current lives — one friendly, one not so much. Did this earlier lifestyle experience affect the level of compassion each showed their would-be submissive? The question, “should one be a submissive before becoming a dominant” has been a point of contention and debate within the kink community since perhaps the days of the Old Guard.
Similarly to Secretary, after their first time having sex, Mr. C. Grey put Anastasia into a white tub to bathe her with a sponge, just as Mr. E. Grey did Lee after their first time. In one scene, Mr. E. Grey gave Lee commands via a land line telephone, ordering her to eat a certain number of green peas and spoonfuls of mashed potatoes at dinner time. Mr. C. Grey gave Anastasia commands as well, but via text messaging. Welcome to 2015.
If you pay close attention, you may notice numerous other subtle similarities between the two movies. If I had taken a drink for each time I recognized one, I would not have been able to take such copious notes during the movie showing… drunk into a stupor.
When I tally up the points for things about the FSoG movie that I loved, or at least appreciated versus the things I really disliked, even hated, the hate fest parade would definitely win the prize. Let’s count the ways.
What I hated
I hated that Christian presented as a stalker at least 3 times in the movie. First, he was able to quickly locate Ana at a bar from where she’d drunk dialed him, then go to her. Second, he showed up at her place unannounced, uninvited, yet acted very casual and nonchalant about his presence there. Third, he watched her from afar while she was visiting with her mother, even calling her to ask if she was going to have another Cosmo cocktail, seeing she had already had her assigned limit. While his attention may seem romantic and desirable to some, methinks his incredible wealth and good looks mask the fact that this behavior is intrusive, possessive and scary coming from anyone.
After that bar scene, Christian took Ana to his hotel suite, supposedly to sleep off her drunken state. That alone is no crime, but the fact that he undressed her while she was so drunk that she may have been passed out certainly could be. Drunk = no consent. Passed out = no consent. I must cry foul.
I was greatly uncomfortable with the storyline that involved the younger Christian Grey, age 15, being the submissive of a woman old enough to be named as his mother’s friend. No interaction between the mismatched pair was shown during the movie, but I didn’t need to see it to call it for what would be called in any circumstance in our society — abuse. Had we been apprised of physical interactions between the two, another word could be used.
Before one particular scene, Christian reached for what one could assume was a glass of alcohol. A very, very common sentiment within the kink community is that any level of “play” (particularly S&M activities) should never be performed while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This point could be debated as the use of “mind-altering” substances could include many things well beyond a glass of wine (even prescribed), thus we have standard safety tenets in place to help plug in these contentious holes. Still, many kinksters would likely cringe at seeing Christian down that wine (or other) just before playing with his hopeful submissive.
Moving on to the kinky’ish bits…..
The first time Christian tied Ana’s wrists together, she held them with hands palms up, veins and arteries exposed. While it wasn’t a tight bind and the scene was far from intense (i.e severe), bondage lovers may want to look away as he didn’t seem to bother to turn her inner wrists facing each other to reduce the risk of cutting off the blood supply to her hands. (He did in a subsequent scene.)
After hitting Ana on the hand, open palm, with a riding crop, he asked her if it hurt, to which she replied it did not. As a painslut masochistic bottom, I know that sound. Maybe it didn’t raise her pain sensors to the point of a battle cry, but it was a nice little hand slap. Christian then told her, “See?” that her fear was just in her head. Well, isn’t that the home base of fear, in one’s mind? Something about this line didn’t sit well with me. Perhaps it was the easy dismissal of a potentially real, valid and solidly based fear she was feeling with a simple, “It’s all in your head” line.
One scene involved a belting. This happened almost immediately after a heated discussion between the two main characters. They move directly into an intense physical pain play scene directly on the heels of a highly emotionally charged moment. If we are to contend that play while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is dangerous, by all means, playing while under the influence of such intense emotion can also be seen as a much higher risk activity. My rule: never hit while emotional. Never. Just don’t.
Side note: The belting scene greatly reminded me of the belting scene(s) in A Dangerous Method, a movie with some strong elements of kink, specifically S&M.
After one particular punishment scene, Christian jumps up and leaves his hopeful submissive to basically fend for herself. The level of aftercare given, if it can count as any at all, was a dismal example of such.
On the punishment note, my owner fondly called what Christian Grey did, “funishment,” a term sometimes used in the kink community to describe a “punishment” that a submissive (or slave or bottom, etc.) may actually crave, thereby lowering it’s effect as actual punishment. This term was coined by a kinkster in a personal article.
There were some elements of the movie I could greatly appreciate.
What I liked
For example, Christian Grey’s dungeon was a work of art. When he first opened the door to his play room and the camera panned, I nearly went into a space (similar to subspace) right on the spot. The dark lighting… velvety textures… the perfectly aligned assortment of floggers… leather, horsehair… the cat-o-nine tails… chain… a colossal medieval style 4-poster bed… I could only imagine the intoxicating scent of leather permeating the walls and seeping out into the air, creating an instant addiction to the awaiting sensual energy for anyone who entered. I must say bravo to the art director for creating the type of space every kinky player would love to have in their own home.
I loved that Christian and Ana engaged in great foreplay before some of their play (or playful interactions). Some of their dialogue and casual PDA was a welcome element in this movie. On a darker side, the art of the mindfuck is one of the greatest skills a dominant can learn, and lines like “If you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit for a week.” are certainly panty-wetting material.
After the aforementioned belting scene, Ana had what one might call a bad reaction. Her resulting wrath could have stemmed from any number of reasons beyond what happened during the scene alone, but what I’m not 100% sure the producers realized is that her reaction isn’t necessarily an uncommon occurrence. Many of us have reacted to what might otherwise be called “play” with unexpected behavior. This scene could be looked upon as a horror story, but as a submissive and masochistic bottom, I can attest to it’s realistic possibility and appreciate the dialogue that scene can inspire.
Regarding that same scene, I will give credit for the aftercare Christian attempted to provide. Ana was quite obviously upset after the scene, but he put forth the effort to comfort her, an effort she vehemently rejected. Even after this, as Ana laid holding tightly to her pillow, Christian made a second attempt to provide her with some emotional support, another attempt rejected by Ana. When it comes to aftercare, one can only hope one’s partner puts forth a valiant effort. (If the movie had continued, I would have expected further attempts at aftercare well beyond these short moments.)
I also appreciate that the FSoG film did not limit the D/s interactions to the physical realm. Some of their play was sexually driven, no doubt, but not all of it was. They both seemed to enjoy at least parts of the mental and emotional interplay that so many lifestylers also enjoy.
The incredible pre-movie release rumblings almost overwhelmingly cast the FSoG movie into the dimmest light possible. Attempts at remaining unbiased, unswayed by the steely opinions of others was a tough challenge, but being often highly opinionated myself, I was able to keep somewhat of a neutral mind. I viewed this movie with anticipation while holding on to a healthy dose of skepticism. In the end, I’ve had to ask myself some challenging questions.
Was this movie about BDSM?
My answer is a clear and easy and resounding NO. This movie was about propelling the success of a book trilogy and padding the pockets of it’s creators. It’s that simple. The BDSM I’ve known for many years may have been portrayed in a similar manner in the film, but a 2-hour movie does NOT my lifestyle represent fully by any means. Forgive me if I am among those who are protective of this life we live, but we are so for reasons such as this movie and all the fantasy Hollywood hype surrounding it. We are not a script. We are mothers and bosses and neighbors who happen to live a lifestyle that not many understand, and we are generally OK with that.
On the other hand, as stated previously, one cannot simply ignore the representation of kink offered in this film, whether one agrees with said representation or not. FSoG is here and it is on very, very large screens across the country and many parts of the world. It is not to be denied. Our mission is to now determine how we will react to it.
Was there abuse?
In short, yes, there was abuse. But I dare say, there was not the form of abuse I’ve seen so many rant about in the book. Perhaps it’s my negligence for not reading the book and only relying on what I saw on screen, and I admit this fully, but the abuse I ascertained from the film is clearly outlined in sections above in this review.
Christian and Anastasia are adults making the life decisions adults make, with the addition of kink. Clearly Ana cannot (and should not) sign a contract detailing items of which she knows nothing about (graphic and likely intense BDSM matters), as I probably shouldn’t have signed the gazillion contracts when I closed on a house, as I didn’t understand even a third of what I was Jane Hancock’ing.
I’m making light. Still, neither of us was coerced into these acts to a level I’d label as abusive. Out of the many BDSM dynamics I’ve seen and heard tale of beginning, Christian and Ana’s start did not set of any drastic alarm bells for me, and I left my “pushover” days behind ages ago. I’m the one who tells submissives, especially female subs, to snap back to reality and to remain well-grounded and of sound mind.
The elements of the movie which I believe to show some level of abuse are outlined within this review, but I cannot easily co-sign on the general “50 Shades is abuse” train of thought when it comes to the movie.
BDSM without love and romance
(…it can and does happen and is not at all uncommon or wrong.)
The FSoG movie detailed a lot of turmoil within the main character, although it was draped and partially hidden by the whole D/s quest. He rejected the idea of love and romance, especially when it comes to women, and the women he wanted to serve him as his submissive. We were given a glimpse into Christian’s difficult early life, but I’m not sure we were given the complete link into why he chose to remain so aloof.
Still, the movie did manage, maybe by accident(?), to show that D/s can be done without involvement of one’s romantic heart. Whether it showed this successfully or not is a different story, but I can appreciate that at least a little fantasy was removed. Had it not been, the movie may have gone the full trek of “man meets woman becomes dominant then marries her, white picket fence, rides off into the sunset” fantasy that some hopefuls may have paid to see.
Also, it certainly leaves us wide open to receive the sequel… something I believe is sure to happen.