I had zero expectations when I went to see Fifty Shades of Grey. I wanted to see it for the sake of being able to talk about it in conversation and used it as an excuse to go to the movies on a Thursday night rather than doing homework. I had never read the book, but I knew enough from people who had read it to feel like I knew enough about the characters and story going to the movie.
If you live under a rock and don’t know much about the movie or the book, it’s about an inexperienced college woman who is seduced by a sexy, powerful, rich businessman who wants her to sign a contract to agree to be in a BDSM relationship with him. She isn’t his girlfriend, but more like a sex toy for him. She also receives expensive gifts and gets a room in his house if she agrees to this.
Knowing this going into the movie, I didn’t expect to react to it as I did. Instead of being entertained by it, I left the theater sort of confused and frustrated. This wasn’t because it was pushing the boundaries, but more about the fact that it wasn’t. The movie was about as sexually explicit as I had expected. I knew people had complained about the fact that it was controversial in terms of violence against women, but I didn’t find either of these things to be the most troubling.
The problem I had with the Fifty Shades movie is not that it contains controversial forms of sex that can be perceived as misogynistic. The real problem was the reduction of the potentially complex and interesting characters to nothing more than their sexual desires.
The movie is centered on the contract outlining the BDSM relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia being established. The movie fails to establish any kind of real relationship between them: one second they’re meeting and the next, he’s popping up out of nowhere to save her from being hit by a car and then showing her his room full of sex toys. I’m still wondering what about Mr. Grey interests Anastasia so much, other than the fact that he’s attractive. I’m even more interested to know what he finds so attractive about her, since she is mousy and timid around him at first.
Then, he gives her a contract so they can establish what’s acceptable in this relationship. The contract is weird: it’s simply a list of rules, like that he’s opposed to sleeping in the same bed with her. She won’t tolerate “anal fisting,” but other things are negotiable.
I found it most frustrating that Fifty Shades gives us next to nothing important about Anastasia and Christian or even a decent emotional basis to their relationship. All we know about Anastasia is that her parents are divorced and that she’s a virgin. Similarly, the movie spends minimal time explaining the mysterious Mr. Grey. There is one scene where he explains to Anastasia that a friend’s mother seduced him when he was a teenager into a dominant-submissive relationship and although he insists that he isn’t proud of it, it’s the reason that he’s into that kind of stuff.
This information is possibly the most telling about his character that is offered in the entire movie and while he is supposed to be sexy and mysterious, it’s more intriguing to think about the complex psyche of this character as a result of his past than to actually watch him take his clothes off on-screen. Like Anastasia, I had some serious questions about Christian Grey. He’s basically unable to deal with intimacy like a real person, and I find that more interesting than seeing him shirtless. He’s clearly reluctant to discuss his past, but this is where the whole thing goes wrong: instead of allowing him to evade his intimacy issues, I wanted to beg Anastasia to insist on something more from him because it seems like that’s what she wants, too.
As a result of the lack of emotional foundation to their relationship, it’s hard to respect or relate to Anastasia as a woman, since we similarly know little about her emotional build. Maybe, she would be easier to sympathize with if we learned why she felt so inclined to let this strange man forge a sexual relationship with her. It’s impossible to argue this on the basis of chemistry either, since there is literally more sexual tension between Christian Grey and the cool, expensive sports cars he drives.
I so desperately wanted to like the movie, but instead I left wondering why such complicated people were not expressed differently. This is maybe a matter of mass appeal. Sex sells, we’ve all heard it before, but the treatment of the characters in Fifty Shades gives new meaning to the phrase. Upon further consideration, this is probably the most likely reason these characters are able to be reduced to nothing more than their sexual desires and sell out movie theaters across the country.
It’s not easy to argue that any part of Fifty Shades is realistic, nor that it’s supposed to resemble reality. If this movie is a fantasy though, I’d rather indulge myself in a fantasy filled with the unraveling of these characters, rather than objectification of them. Christian himself insists that he’s “fifty shades of f**ked up” towards the end of the movie, but how and why is what I’m actually dying to know. Why is this story about him and her as opposed to him and any of the other women he’s been with? The emotional complexity these characters contain could rival characters that win Academy Awards, but they aren’t challenged to do so by this script.
There is no real story told by Fifty Shades, but rather a matter of happenings strung together to really good music for two hours. The most passionate and emotionally stimulating aspect of the movie was perhaps the soundtrack, which includes a beautifully reimagined version of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love.” If these characters had been given the same meticulously careful treatment as this song, the movie could have had a lot more to offer.