By Morgan Fisher
Warning: Movie Spoilers
Last week, I watched the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey. I never read the books, mostly due to the fact that I was warned about how horrendously written they were, but also a little bit because my Twilight phase passed after I graduated high school and I didn’t want to be reminded of the misogynistic, backward crap I used to like. But I did decide that I wanted to see the movie to develop a concrete opinion on the plot and messed-up character dynamics. And boy, did I.
The movie, which is based on the novel by E.L. James, which is based on Twilight (it originated as a fanfiction) centralizes around the story of Anastasia and Christian and his “I want to be with you but I’m bad for you but I’m going to pursue you anyway” mentality. And naturally, Anastasia has no say in the matter. Christian Grey is an obsessive, controlling misogynist who only further perpetuates the stereotype that it’s okay for a man to order around a woman, so long as he’s being nice to her.
The sexual aspect of the movie is obviously one of the key points of the story, but before I get into that, I want to get into the fundamental basics of the couple’s relationship that even further emphasize the convoluted dynamic that we for some reason seem to think is acceptable. First of all, Christian Grey is straight-up creepy. He always knows where Anastasia is, somehow tracking her down at a bar and even going so far as to fly from Seattle to Georgia where she is visiting her mother, uninvited and supposedly unaware of her whereabouts. He tracks her every move, dictates every aspect of her life, and doesn’t even allow her the chance to create a semblance of equal ground between them. While Anastasia is away, she is texting Christian, who casually mentions that he’s going to dinner with a friend, and when asked who the friend is, he replies with “Don’t worry about it.” So this man can follow this woman around and make her feel guilty for making her own choices, but he won’t even tell her who he’s going to dinner with. This double standard was just one of the countless times I angrily threw my hands up in frustration during the film.
In a scene towards the beginning of the film, Anastasia is out drinking with her friends. She drunkenly calls Christian, a man she barely knows at this point, and he takes it upon himself to tell her that he doesn’t want her to drink any more. He then demands to know where she is, and although she doesn’t tell him, you guessed it, he shows up anyway. And, naturally, he comes to her “rescue” just as one of her close friends is trying to kiss her as she is trying to reject his advances. Regardless of whether or not this was a legitimately threatening situation (it really didn’t seem like it, though), it’s not this stranger’s place to show up and whisk her away because he “didn’t want her drinking any more.” And to portray him as some sort of saving grace, when really it was more the actions of a stalker than anything else, makes me want to run up to the author of this novel and beg her to stop shoving this idea into the heads of readers susceptible to being manipulated by stories such as this.
And now, the sex. I will not pretend to know much about the BDSM community. It’s something that I hadn’t heard of until I was 17 years old, and not something that I’ve ever done extensive research on. However, this movie received a huge amount of backlash from the community, and I had to know more about why.
A BDSM relationship is based on trust. Two consenting, curious parties engage in activities that bring sexual pleasure to both people in unique ways. When the male is dominant and the female submissive, the man takes control of the woman in the bedroom. In the bedroom. It’s a fetish that allows couples to realize what pleases them and communicate what that is behind closed doors. But once those doors are opened, they go back to being equal partners. In this film, Christian Grey is constantly dominant. He shows up unannounced, tells Anastasia what to wear, and has sex with her whenever he feels like it. There’s a point in the film where Anastasia is researching what being a submissive is like, and she seemingly concludes her affair with Christian by letting him know that “it was nice knowing” him. Christian then shows up in her home and has sex with her, asking, “is this nice?” That’s not consent. This man is selfishly taking whatever he wants from her and Anastasia lets it happen, justifying it by deciding that she’s falling in love with him. Multiple BDSM enthusiasts critique this movie in a major way, appalled at the way the community is portrayed. People who understand the fundamental practices of this lifestyle have said that they wouldn’t let their children anywhere near someone like Christian Grey. Nevertheless, this guy is the newest fantasy.
Not that this messed-up sadist doesn’t need to be sent off to a psych ward right away, but one of the big things that frustrated me about Anastasia was how she was all talk. There were a few times during the movie that I was actually rooting for her, like when she decided that she didn’t want anything to do with Christian, or when she asked him if he intended on ordering her around all the time. You start to think that maybe she’s come to her senses but as soon as he shows up she’s right back to submitting to everything he wants from her. This is not a love story; this is a story that glorifies abuse.
Anastasia is not a submissive. At least, not in the sexual sense. The reason that Christian enjoys being a dominant is because he has a messed-up past and therefore uses punishment and control as an outlet for his issues, rather than, say, therapy. In the BDSM community, most of the people involved are healthy people with average pasts who have discovered a side of themselves that they enjoy exploring sexually. But Anastasia doesn’t enjoy this. Sure, she doesn’t mind being spanked and tied up a few times in the film, but when she asks Christian what “the worst of it” is, he beats her. Full on, with a whip, panting with desire as she’s crying and very apparently realizing the magnitude of this man’s issues. I was appalled at this. And thankfully, after this traumatizing experience, Anastasia decides that she needs to leave Christian. However, my roommate assured me that they definitely get back together, once again emphasizing Anastasia’s “all talk” attitude and Christian’s frightening manipulative tendencies.
I know that this story is supposed to be about an insecure woman whose sexuality is awakened by a man with deep psychological issues, and that he’s supposed to overcome them because she changes him or whatever, but that doesn’t change the fact that this relationship is developed on a foundation of control and manipulation. I know that to a lot of people who are going to see it for the entertainment aspect, it may seem harmless. I used to be obsessed with the books that this novel was based on (my perspective has since changed drastically; definitely a Twilight article to be written in the future), and it doesn’t seem like there’s anything wrong with liking a story about a woman who finds herself through a relationship with a man who in turn finds himself through her. But we often base our lives off of what we see in the media. And if this is the kind of story that you want to base your life off of, I beg you to reconsider.