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Beneath its Curious Surface, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ a Dangerous Menace to Society

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CHICAGO – Strike one of far too many: “Fifty Shades of Grey” author Erika Leonard (better known as E.L. James) has never lived the BDSM lifestyle. And therefore, nor should she be writing about, romanticizing and profiteering on it. On a $40 million budget, the film earned $30.2 million on its opening Friday and is on track for a record-breaking international weekend grab of $158 million.

But this is as irresponsible as an author writing about rape who has never been. Anne Rice wrote “The Sleeping Beauty Quartet” (four erotic BDSM novels under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure), but she was actually engaged in BDSM with her husband. Experienced with it, Rice also wrote the BDSM romance novels “Exit to Eden” and “Belinda” under the pen name Anne Rampling.

Fifty Shades of Grey stars Dakota Johnson
“Fifty Shades of Grey” stars Dakota Johnson as the innocent and naïve Anastasia Steele.
Image credit: Universal Pictures

While “Fifty Shades of Grey” is every trashy novelist’s dream, there are much better ones including Sylvia Day’s “Bared to You,” Leah Brooke’s “Crescendo,” Maya Banks’ “Sweet Addiction,” Catherine Millet’s “Sexual Life of Catherine M.” and Nicholson Baker’s “House of Holes”. There are some things that just take firsthand experience and the private, serious and respectful world of bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism is definitely one.

Though BDSM is nothing new, what “Fifty Shades of Grey” is newly doing – and is doing very successfully – is making it mainstream. That’s dangerous, though, because it shouldn’t be. BDSM is a private world, and at the end of the day with “Fifty Shades,” the interesting parts aren’t new and the new parts aren’t interesting.

But talking about sex is healthy, right? Sometimes, yes, but this isn’t just sex and BDSM isn’t for mass consumption. Becoming the first introduction into this private world for many folks who had never otherwise considered it, these books and this film gives some of us false hope and unrealistic expectations. This twisted truth could end up getting some people hurt physically and mentally.

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades of Grey
In “Fifty Shades of Grey”, Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson step into the iconic roles of billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey and curious college student Anastasia Steele.
Image credit: Universal Pictures, Focus Features

“He’s not my kind of guy,” Jamie Dornan has been quoted as saying about his role as Christian Grey. “I don’t like the idea of someone telling a girl what she should eat and how much she should exercise. That’s not right. Obviously. I don’t know anyone in Belfast like him at all. None of my [Irish] mates would carry on like that.”

It’s just a job, but he chose to accept it and get rich and famous for it. And beyond his capitalism off of this worldwide phenomenon, the dangers of exposing BDSM to the uneducated public are not to be trifled with and are quite serious. BDSM isn’t a world people just fall into curiously and 21-year-old virgins don’t go from never having had sex to BDSM.

A dominant/submissive relationship doesn’t originate from a professional interview. In reality, they begin online or after a fetish event. And no true BDSM kinkster would shop in an Ace Hardware-like store and use harsh rope, duct tape or cable ties in their red room of pleasurable pain.

Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey
Jamie Dornan stars as billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey in “Fifty Shades of Grey”.
Image credit: Chuck Zlotnick, Universal Pictures, Focus Features

But “Fifty Shades of Grey,” apparently, isn’t trying to be any sort of reality. It’s supposed to be OK that the books and the movie suspend your belief of real life to allow men and women everywhere – young and wise – to escape. The stories are particularly targeted at women. They are seen as “mommy porn” or fantastic fantasies for angry, bitter ladies to read when their deadbeat husbands just aren’t doing the trick for them in bed and otherwise.

Christian Grey doesn’t exist. For starters, not for one second does this film convince me that he’s a successful businessman and Grey House is actually a real entity. The film artificially and quickly sets him up with his helicopter, pretty work ladies, bachelor pad and caretakers. And, of course, luxury cars. “Which one is yours?,” Ana questions innocently. Christian replies formulaically: “All of them.”

In Anastasia Steele’s interview with Christian Grey – conveniently in place of her sick roommate doing it – she asks about the key to his success. Just “being good with people” isn’t enough. David Fincher’s “The Social Network” took time to explore the hard-working neuroses of Mark Zuckerberg so you’d be convinced that he could found the multibillion-dollar Facebook.

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades of Grey
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson in “Fifty Shades of Grey”.
Image credit: Universal Pictures, Focus Features

Christian taking one business call and being angry at someone for some unknown reason is laughable. The scene does nothing to convince you that he’s earned the billions of dollars he’s been given by his author and no other scenes exist to try to convince you further. Instead, the film just has him focusing on his relationship with the young and naïve Ana who goes from the chastity Disney belt in the bedroom to getting lashed and suspended in Christian’s non-Xbox playroom.

Obviously leaving out key scenes from the book – and that’s fine because a movie is never exactly like the novel and novelist loyalists need to get over that – the film decides to focus on things like Ana biting her lip instead of answering questions about Christian’s mysterious upbringing, his success or trying to be a realistic portrayal of BDSM.

The film has a dual personality. On one hand, it could be viewed as provocative subject matter to safely spice up the sex life in healthy, loving couples. On the other, it could be a damaging and unrealistic introduction into a world many people don’t understand and shouldn’t engage.

Dakota Johnson in Fifty Shades of Grey
Dakota Johnson stars as curious college student Anastasia Steele in “Fifty Shades of Grey”.
Image credit: Universal Studios, Focus Features

And Ana biting her lip represents this duality as a double entendre. On one hand, it could mean she’s turned on. But on the other, it could be a nervous tick like playing with her hair or biting her fingernails. Either way, the act certainly incites the dominant in Christian to punish her because he views it as improper.

In teasing an older Mrs. Robinson character who introduced Christian to BDSM and “made him this way,” the film ties his dark past to abuse. “Fifty Shades” especially does a serious disservice to people living with domestic abuse. Just because Christian doesn’t do anything to Ana that she doesn’t willingly “say yes” to doesn’t mean he’s not abusive.

He was made this way by another woman and now perpetuates it to new people. This film speaks nothing about his father figure and only briefly introduces his mom as Marcia Gay Harden.

Christian and Ana change each other into people they are not. While Christian hardens Ana, Ana softens him. She struggles to inspire him to let her in emotionally. He struggles to convince Ana to sign a submissive contract and be satisfied with a steamy sex life devoid of everyday dates and traditional relationship norms.

Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey
Jamie Dornan in “Fifty Shades of Grey”.
Image credit: Universal Pictures, Focus Features

Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen so many films and hardly anything shocks me any more, but “Fifty Shades of Grey” – to earn its “R” rating instead of “NC-17,” which would have caused it to make less money – is actually much more tame than I thought it would be.

In terms of how much it pushes the envelope, “Fifty Shades” only licks the seal as compared to much more graphic and controversial films like Lars von Trier’s brilliant and unrated “Nymphomaniac: Vol. I” and “Nymphomaniac: Vol. 2,” which was released to a much smaller audience, or 1975’s “NC-17”-rated “The Story of O”.

Beneath its curious surface, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is an uninformed and unrealistic “romance” set in the BDSM world that dangerously dramatizes sexual violence and glamorizes domestic abuse. It perpetuates the false perception that a young, innocent and attractive woman can find real love within violent sex by changing a controlling, manipulative and jealous man into a good husband.


Note: This “R”-rated film is intended for mature audiences only.
It is rated “R” for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior
and graphic nudity and for language. You must be 17+ to attend a showing of this film.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” stars Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Marcia Gay Harden, Jennifer Ehle, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Eloise Mumford, Max Martini, Callum Keith Rennie and Dylan Neal from director Sam Taylor-Johnson, producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti and writer Kelly Marcel based on the novels by E.L. James. The film, which opened on Feb. 13, 2015 and has a running time of 125 minutes, is rated “R” for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity and for language.

HollywoodChicago.com publisher Adam Fendelman

By ADAM FENDELMAN
Publisher
HollywoodChicago.com
adam@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2015 Adam Fendelman, HollywoodChicago.com LLC

Jason's picture

True

True mate. Load of crap, a), and b) distasteful and degrading idea of women and sex being portrayed as acceptable and mainstream. Imho should be banned.

Justmike's picture

Fifty Shades

Your review…is that no precisely the premise of the book? Should not your review be: They nailed it. One who loves this book will no doubt love this movie.

I get that you want to come off all smart and whatnot. But you missed the point. This was an adaptation of a novel, a novel which celebrates a “damaging and unrealistic introduction into a world many people don’t understand and shouldn’t engage.”

Of course, you’re a film critic, so your advising people on sexual practices is akin to Springer advising Cronkite on journalism.

Your job, though I use that label with immediate regret, is to review a movie, which you failed to do. All you did was offer advice, this advice: you, yeah, you, the one reading my review…you don’t understand this world. I do, but you don’t. So don’t engage. And you should listen to me, for I’m a film critic on Hollywoodchicago.com.

Elle Ay Esse's picture

Actually, the MOVIE review

Actually, the MOVIE review was spot on. The fact that he chose to give commentary on the novels the movie is based on is irrelevant. He also sourced other materials in the BDSM literary world. The comment was made at the start of the review that no book/movie transition will please everyone. Parts are expanded on, parts are left out.

That said, just because he expounded on the movie being a steaming pile of —— is exactly the point of a movie reviewer.

Are you perhaps reading more into the review than there is or are you simply trying to claim that 50 Shades of Grey (in either its film or novel format) should be considered “art” and any other review is simply unjust?

cathrine65's picture

Isn't that the point.....?

Isn’t the point of both the book and now the novel to allow women (and men too) to escape into a fantasy? Why is it okay for a women to be portrayed as prostitutes to fulfill mens desires only to be tossed away with only the threat of being caught standing as the main plot in “The Loft” or the perverse remake of “I Spit on Your Grave (2010)” that grossed over $90M opening weekend? Or “The Last House on the Left” 2009 remake, that portrays a teenage girl brutally raped and left for dead?

These do not promote domestic abuse / violence towards women? However, one movie that shows two consenting adults in which one is ignorant,yes, but is being guided and educated by someone already trained for lack of better word, who if you will remember discloses that HE was the submissive when he was introduced to the lifestyle. This one comment lets Anna know that he knows first hand what she is feeling. He urges her in the book to RESEARCH and if she has any questions to ask. How is this incorrectly informing the public in regards to BDSM???! If this is something that incites interest for a woman, or man or couple, are they not free to choose their own explorations?

This is absurd and if a man uses this as an excuse to enact violence on women, it will be just that. An EXCUSE. The POS’s would do it anyways. Pain can be pleasurable and it is about time that female fantasies were portrayed on the silver screen. If you think that BDSM is some little secret club, you are mistaken. There is far too much internet interaction for that to be true. All you have to do is google it for crying out loud. What it awakened here was again, a female fantasy and unfortunately unleashed male insecurities because men cannot see it as fantasy, but instead as a ‘measuring tool’ for their own productivity.

Jazz's picture

You're out to lunch

No man I know glorifies any of those movies you mention. They think they are on the same level of filth as this one. As a result, your example is irrational. In fact, if you need evidence, please go check on imdb and review the scores of your examples according to the genders. In all of your examples, women have rated the films higher than men. Your entire reasoning therefore has no basis.

But sticking back on topic of this film, perhaps you can provide reasoning as to why there is a majority of female critics who also despise this film?

Attacking one gender to rationalize your opinion is in very essence sexist.

Elle Ay Esse's picture

Idiocy

The thing about this movie, and its literary counterpart (the 50 Shades Trilogy), is that it does not come with the iconic disclaimer of “do not try this at home”. The BDSM lifestyle has been around probably as long as sex itself. There is something men (and women too, however we fillies had to keep our desires under wraps for years, decades even) love about controlling others. BDSM is not a new idea. A trip down historical memory lane will reveal “The Story of O” and “Justine” by the Marquis de Sade - both in my personal library, btw). It isn’t wrong, it certainly shouldn’t be “taboo” and I give massive applause to EL James for putting BDSM in your face and making people understand it exists.

My applause stops there. Yes, she put something a little more off the beaten path into mainstream viewing. What she lacked was the execution, character development and realism.

Based on her writings of Twilight fan-fiction (need I say more), all James has managed to do is create “mommy porn” for lonely housewives whose husbands would rather drink beer and play cards than look up what a nipple clamp is and how it works. Because of its fan base, the 50 Shades book and now movie are quite possibly the most dangerous I have encountered. Because it’s meant for idiots. And we all know what happens when we mix ignorant idiots in with literary or media pop culture.

Need I remind you there is a reason a curling iron has a warning label: “For External Use Only”. SOMEONE obviously did something they shouldn’t and now that seemingly obvious label must be displayed for all to see.

As such, the danger here is not the sexual nature. It isn’t the unrealistic characters and somehow British scenes set in America’s Northeast. It is the simple fact that every single woman now wants to be beaten. And one of two things is going to happen.

1) her boyfriend/husband other type of man-person will oblige her and end up doing some serious damage because the attempted use of 50 Shades of Grey as a BDSM manual.
2) girls will be raped and beaten because they wander into a place they shouldn’t. There are bad people everywhere.

Is BDSM bad? No. I myself have enjoyed the lifestyle. As I have the experience to say, you don’t just fall into a sex club. There are no Christian Greys who will take care of you. Stop making this about being sexually advanced and allowing sex to no longer be so hush hush.

It’s about idiocy. America is the number one source of morons and we have now handed them a manual on how to do some serious damage to others in a way that should be reserved for people who can actually spell bondage.

At least when it was just a book series half of the country wouldn’t have known about it. Spelling BOOK is another problem with America. EAE

CuddlefishCullen's picture

Not BDSM

BDSM is fine. There should be no problem with it being mainstream, but 50 shades is not an accurate portrayal of the culture. Safewords are the foundation of S&M, but Christian Grey actively ignores safewords. He also rapes his partner on multiple occasions, and makes her sign a contract saying she cannot press charges for anything he does to her. He is not a dominant, he is an abuser. I liked the book not for the writing or the vanilla sex, but for the interesting opportunity to see into the mind of an abuser. His motivations fascinate and disturb me. I had hoped the film would showcase the relationship as abusive and dysfunctional, not romantic, but that clearly wasn’t the case. What annoys me is the endless stream of people calling their relationship BDSM, when it is clearly not.

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