*My review contains shameless spoilers. But it’s OK. Read away, judge, and then go watch something better like Porn or Game of Thrones. And a quick but sincere Thank You to my three lovely friends watched this with me. -Bianca*
50 Shades of Grey is in and of itself an interesting phenomenon. What started off as a Twilight Fanfiction titled “Master of the Universe” is now a best-selling book (I do hesitate to call it a novel) around the world. Selling 45 million copies in the USA and 100 million worldwide according to The Hollywood Reporter and still going steady. I thought it a positive sign that a genre usually kept to the back corner of the already cornered and geared bookstore shelves was now in the public mainstream. It was being read and discussed even by people who usually don’t pick up books, but made an exception for the unusually scandalous.
Its movie version opened on Valentine’s Day weekend and made 50% of its gross profits, just by existing. Having been dubbed “Mommy Porn” by the kind souls of the internet, I and a few friends set out to see what it was all about (The title “mommy porn” in and of itself is a thing to tackle, but I’m going to choose to leave that alone for now). None of us had read the book, believing the rumors of bad writing and pathetic plot lines, but how bad could a movie be? At best, it might be about a woman finding her sexuality on a public screen. At worse, it would come to BDSM porn scenes with a partially put together plot, right? So we took a Saturday afternoon, prepared for the worst with snacks, drinks, and a sense of impending doom and watched 50 Shades of Grey. And the worst is what we got. But I want to make it clear here, I’m judging the movie. I know the book has some very unsettling connotations, but let’s just go over the visual impressions today.
He-Man© Master of the Universe
Christian Grey is a serial killer. But a well-informed, legalese prepared, literally-labels-himself-for-you serial killer. There’s no mid-movie wondering. He tells her straight off that he’s basically going to do horrible things to her and writes up a contract about it. He stops by her job and buys zip ties, duct tape, and bungee cord while making sexual advances and apparently that’s sexy?
It really belongs to a different discussion, but it’s so hard to not point out that this is very clearly Twilight Fanfiction. For anyone who is even a little familiar with the series, Grey is a creepier Edward. He barely sleeps because of his trauma so he watches Ana. He’s wealthy, young, careless, thinks himself a “monster” and tries to push Ana away even while insisting he has a huge attraction to her that he “can’t explain”. The movie doesn’t try to hide this. It almost tries to leave about half of his character depth to the smoulder you see in the picture below. That’s it. He says something that could be followed by some dialogue if they were going for movie or action if they were going for porn. Instead the camera focuses on that look on his face like it explains everything. Like we can read his fucked up little mind just because reasons. Sigh.
Mid-movie he even tells her why he has “a playroom” in the first place—he was badly abused by his mother’s friend and now has control issues. He spells it out so well, that a first year psych student would know what therapy treatment to recommend. BDSM is sexual experimentation for those who can experience pleasure through giving it to others, like extremes, are generally positive, in healthy committed relationships, are healthy alone, and not a serial killer. There is nothing displayed in this man’s severe and painfully stereotypical attitudes that display a healthy sexual appetite.
Not that Ana really is a person in the first place. With the idea that this book started as Fanfiction from a book with an ever-enthralling Mary Sue, it’s pretty hard to take Anastasia seriously in the first place. We went into the movie with the idea that the movie would kind of improve all the places the book lacked. Kind of like deep shading in a tattoo. But actually, all it did was show it to us in Technicolor.
We meet Anastasia going to see Grey for an article for her school paper. She’s dressed worse than Grandma on a bad day and in less than four minutes ends up on her knees. The initial interview broadly displays for the viewer these horribly stereotypical displays of “dominant” and “submissive” and it’s actually pretty nauseating. Now as I’ve mentioned, its broadcast nonstop that she’s a blank slate-uh, I mean virgin. Right. Anyway, she’s passive about her entire life. Her co-worker throws a casual arm over her shoulder like she’s a possession, she keeps secrets like she needs them, and she’s just kind of vacant.
And though these are just our first impressions, hang on folks because it doesn’t get any better.
Don’t Worry, I’m Pretty Sore.
Ana Steele is very taken aback when Grey presents her with a contract stating that Friday through Sunday she is his possession and he is basically allowed to do anything he wants to her. It’s black and white, so to speak. It informs her of everything he can and will do to her and how to best handle her situation. He makes no fancy promises, no admissions of love, nothing. Serial killer central, he at no point in this film leads Ana on in any way, shape, or form. I wish I could say the same for Ana. She’s so wishy-washy, we spent the rest of the movie trying to redeem her.
It’s right here, at the introduction of the contract that you learn that this movie is actually a very basic portrayal of how all women seek to change bad boys. That’s it. We’re right back to The Breakfast Club, everyone. She thinks she can make this a relationship about something instead of making a decision. She’s given the contract, reads it, and then goes to him on her own terms to lose her virginity in standard, dignity-stripping virgin white underwear. I have never seen underwear turn off a room so fast in my life. I mean, your Grandma has cooler undies.
Anyway, moving on. So watching her sacrificial lamb sex scene was alright, it was your basic soft core scene. And then she does something spectacular. She sets up a meeting at his office dressed to the nines and commands the whole scene of contract negotiation. The very same contract that gets brought up and then kind of tossed aside and borderline forgotten. So we were just like YES. Sexual awakening metaphor, BAM. It’s the best scene of the movie. She’s in several hundred dollars worth of clothing, setting her own terms and then he talks dirty to her. Yum.
And then it’s gone. That fast, that roller coaster is back at the bottom and you wondered why you just waited in a line for three hours and had to sit next to the guy solo queuing. She’s back in awful looking clothing, submissive, and borderline useless. And the contract never gets signed. It only ever gets discussed to be forgotten. No decision from either of them is ever discussed. Just awkward attempts at seduction from Ana, a character who was literally handed a paper saying if you do the opposite of this, you’re being a needy bitch. This is not a woman I can stand behind, by any means. She’s like a child who can’t listen to basic directions and be respectful of someone else’s wants and wishes. Even if those are the wishes of a serial killer.
So what’s supposed to be the turning point of the movie is the scene where Ana asks for Christian to do his worst. He’s convinced she has no idea what she’s getting into and unlike Twilight’s Bella, she doesn’t even make a visible Google effort. So she’s like do your worst and he whips her, repeatedly and mercilessly. A little like a Roman general with a slave, which this relationship reminds me an awful lot of actually. The slave hopes for bigger things, but the general sees a means to an end. And it’s really not the brutality of the scene that bothered any of us. This movie was trying to make it’s money off of shocking the people who live in a bubble. It’s what she says next that got us.
Ana asks why he did that. Yes, indeed folks. Why did this man, who has made it clearer than cubic zirconium that extreme pain to women turns him on, hit her in a way that turns him on when she’d given consent and asked him to do so? And this was where we stopped trying to redeem her. How can you look for redeeming qualities in a character who so clearly can be so strong and forceful and continues to wilt? You could argue here that it’s the controlling presence of a man like that and blah blah blah but really, what case do you have? She’s like that long before him and her responses would be so much more muted and broken. She’s the same way with Grey as she is with her best friend and mother (Who also may be a serial killer. We weren’t sure though, don’t quote us on that).
Here’s How to Do it Right
Most relationships don’t go from 0 to BDSM in under a weekend. Ignoring Grey and the sacrifice for a moment, the internet is here to help you get into BDSM the right way. Cracked.com has a list entitled “7 Strange Realities of BDSM that “50 Shades of Grey” leaves out”. It is a detailed composition about the right ways to get into the community, groups of people more than happy to give you a sensual experience of your own, without being a Mary Sue.
BDSM is about understanding the need for release in a way that traditional sex does not provide. It’s a mutual, almost selfish agreement to walk the lines between pleasure and pain to reach things that may not be satisfying otherwise. BDSM is often about power-play and mutual respect in real life. It is not about blinking the wrong way and earning punishments. That’s called being crazy.
Adam and Eve have a Fifty Shades of Grey Collection that can be found here and the website offers tips and explanations on how to use everything safely, if this book has inspired your interests. If your sex life is at a point where you’re only reading bad literature, there are many options for self pleasure, talking to your partner, watching more porn, discovering what you might be into, finding a local orgy meet up, finding a BDSM group your comfortable with, and so much more if you look for it. And please look for it. This world doesn’t need more serial killers.
If you were aiming for Disaster…
I think what I really ended 50 Shades of Awkward with was the question of popularity. Ana is so literally nothing, I don’t know how she fails to aggravate more viewers. She never wholeheartedly jumps in or out of the game, she just kind of gets pushed around. But Ana, to me, is the odd one out. I can’t really name a female role model from the last 20 years that is less of a person than her. Women are still making strides everywhere and if you look to the real BDSM community, Ana is safely a nightmare of feminists everywhere.
I think it’s unfair to really blame Christian Grey for anything besides being crazy. He lays it out for her in legalese and English, asking for permission to be his serial killer self so he won’t be sued. There’s nothing wrong with that, besides the actual psychoses. Going back to my original Edward comparison, he actually takes less liberties with her than Edward does with Bella. And I wish I could say, “Gosh, why does he like her?!?” but I can’t. She fits his type perfectly and if we were in a cabin in the woods, she probably would’ve chosen to go off on her own, hide in the room full of bloody chainsaws, and denied getting into the running car already. It’s not his fault she has no survival skills.
50 Shades of Grey is a movie that only highlighted a poor and disturbing Fanfiction written from an abusive relationship about a Mary Sue, a slightly older Claudia, and a wolf with some mommy issues. There really isn’t an abusive relationship either. There’s a girl whose being given pretty things from a guy who repeatedly asks her to be bait while he fulfills fantasies constructed from being helpless while being an abused teen and she thinks she can change him. And it’s not a porn flick either, there’s two sex scenes in the whole shabang that aren’t even really that great. The hottest part of the whole movie is the dirty talk over the contract. Which to be fair, that type of dirty talk isn’t super common in pornography. Most dirty talk is performed by the women to the camera or by the man very quickly, not hot and direct. So, in conclusion, save your time. Watch a foreign horror flick from the Netflix que and then watch a porn. You’ll get more out of the experience than we did.