Saturday night I went to see Fifty Shades of Grey in the theater. The quality of the theater aside (and it was a nice facility), there is plenty one can say about this movie. Most critics have panned it, many say it glorifies violence against women, and many in the clergy and the moralist right have criticized it for being a piece of trash. Speaking from male point of view, my opinion may be somewhat surprising.
Despite a great deal of nudity and sexual situations – including some highly controversial moments – this movie did not arouse me in the least.
Yes, that sounds bizarre, but it is true, and with good reason. Fifty Shades of Grey, when viewed through a storytelling lens, is the sort of movie you would not expect it to be. To understand the movie, one must first realize this work originated as a work of fanfiction deriving from the Twilight movie franchise. One could call it derivative, but that would miss the greater point. It is a work of fiction oriented towards women, but it has elements to it which men can also find engaging. As I have not read the book itself, relying instead on inferences made by comments and details from friends who have read it, I will base this commentary entirely from my impressions of the movie itself.
The focus of the movie, as expected, is almost entirely on the central characters, Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. Anastasia comes off as naïve, a hopeless romantic, and somewhat sheltered and intimidated by her male counterpart. Christian’s vibe is that of the aloof rich kid who has to be in total control of everyone and everything. Predictability in story is everywhere in this film, but it’s done with a sense of foreboding. Even through you can see the freight train coming miles away, you are never quite sure of the speed, the cargo, or the destination. More than a movie with a million twists and turns, this is the sort of storytelling which creates a sense of intrigue. Like lovers in the throes of passion, you know something stunning and potentially controversial is going to happen when you get to the climax, but you aren’t sure how long it will take, how long it will last, and exactly what your actual reaction is going to be.
For that reason alone, Fifty Shades is a well produced piece of cinema, but there are some matters about the film which have raised eyebrows. The BDSM element of the story is one which has brought much discomfort to the surface. This is an element of the story which is strictly lifestyle oriented, and should be viewed within context of the characters’ own development. Some folks simply like the dominant/submissive approach to sexual relations. There are folks who consider this to be abuse, but to paint the respective scenes with such a broad stroke of the brush forget that all entertainment are stories, told from the writer’s point of view. Whether it be it the screenwriter, the author, or someone on the cutting room floor, the film is, in essence, a story with a message, a theme, and an overarching point of view. Fifty Shades is a prime example of how one’s own reaction is a matter of reality based on perception, and why said reaction can create shock waves among the public.
Somehow, I doubt the author’s intent was to give the reading and viewing public a giant dose of “Shock and Awe.” Instead, this movie, more than any I’ve seen in my life, is about release and freedom, a need to find one’s confident and sense of self, a liberation from the bonds of the perceptions of what “normal” should be. Do I wish to be suspended from the ceiling, or use a riding crop on my wife? Would I derive pleasure from the physical pain of another? Not at all. Yet, I can see where, to some, this could be something from which people take pleasure. While there are many absolutes in this world, there is only one thing in this entire movie which is truly absolute – respecting when someone says “no.”
There are those who consider this movie immoral and evil, but that is an oversimplification. Even Christian himself prefaces all his interactions with a disclaimer of some sort, be it written, verbal, or nonverbal cues. For anyone to say this movie does not belong in the cinema for the viewing public runs the risk of being perceived of being the very same control-oriented, domineering personality portrayed in this film.
I have taken great pain to not give away any facets of the movie which could detract from the viewer’s enjoyment. This would be a great disservice – to that point, I highly recommend people who are, at the very least, curious, see this movie. It is, in my opinion, an outstanding couples movie. That said, fair warning: you may be repulsed, you may be aroused, or you may simply watch with fascination. Whatever the reaction, Fifty Shades will rouse a reaction of some sort within you. All that can be asked of anyone regarding this movie is to go into it with an open mind and open heart.