After I watched the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey (you know, that “mom-porn” explanation of a sex life packed with BDSM tendencies), I felt like I had epitomized the title of Roxane Gay‘s book of essays Bad Feminist. I didn’t really care to read the books…but I kind of wanted to see the movie. I was stock, hold and barreled curious about how they were going to translate a trilogy’s fascination with unorthodox sex unto the big screen. For all the steamy sex scenes I’ve seen in films, they were at least believable. The average romp didn’t involve long, slinky whips, or more dramatic, mini dungeons which is what’s expected from the Fifty Shades of Grey world. From a pop culture standpoint (and the only standpoint, because I otherwise treated Fifty Shades like the pinkest elephant ever) I wanted in on the phenomenon that E.L. James created and readers were enthralled by. What was the big deal anyway? Did Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey really have this emotional connection that went beyond whips and chains? And was there more to the book than this cat and mouse game that led to the so-called Red Room of Pain (which still doesn’t sound appealing)?
I remembered, as I sat down in a packed theater for an early screening of the film, that I didn’t care much for the male lead of Christian Grey. Described by faithful readers as definitely controlling but insecure, I didn’t find his wealth or apparent good looks as redeeming factors for his manipulation. When you’ve actually dated someone who has those attributes, you can confirm real quick that dimples and throwing wads of cash about doesn’t heal a heart from the hurt that same swashbuckler has caused. I also knew that a lot of readers didn’t care for Steele because James wrote her way too naive and almost always complicit to Grey’s sexually violent demands for fear of losing him. I don’t know if I just wanted to giver her a break (because usually I can’t stand a cunning man) but Steele’s conundrum I could relate, so for that I still disliked Grey even more. He needed to get over himself. He sounded borderline Machiavellian.
When Fifty Shades began, it went right in. Within 10 minutes she meets Grey (the rushed feeling will annoy you) but there is a lot of ground to cover. As it went along, I felt the movie was doing the bare minimum to get the story across. Like, they were nervous about not satisfying the die-hard fans but also wanted to trap us non-fans into becoming new ones. I didn’t feel anything for Steele or Grey and ridiculous lines strewn in such as “If you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to walk for a week” didn’t help. What was I watching!
So as Grey is intrigued by Steele and she’s oddly enamored too, I did like how the filmmakers made sure to include Steele’s doubts about Grey’s insistence in carrying on BDSM-lite. Truthfully, his more sexually aggressive approach puts her on a tailspin and it’s understandably thrilling, but she also wants regular dates of dinner and movie and just hanging out, enjoying each other’s company. Based on what I’ve heard, the film gives Steele more of a backbone than she has in the books. On screen, she sometimes threatens Grey’s leadership, thus my feminist wiles were relieved about that.
Mid-way through the film I didn’t still know what to make of Grey as a person. I still felt more concerned for Steele who had more at stake to lose such as her freedom, sanity, her freedom. A co-worker and intense know-it-all of Fifty Shades warned me that while on the surface Grey has nothing to offer but sex and cash, I would come to care about him to the contrary. I believed her only because-again–real life had showed me that people with such hi-lo states of emotional stability perpetually have a broken heart.
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