The book, Fifty Shades of Grey, was supposed to be a Twilight fanfic, and if that doesn’t tell you about its contents, very little else will. There is also the distinct possibility of you having seen your mom read it secretly, or you yourself might have (in secret, of course). I read the whole series as it came out, and once I could escape all the sex scenes I could see what Will Ferrell meant about E.L James’ story: “the writing is exquisite.”
The book, from which the movie is based on, is reported to have sold over 100 million copies and has been translated into 52 languages.
Packed in a theatre with about 50 women and five men, I resigned myself to watching a softcore porno. Soon, the starting notes of Annie Lenox’s “I Put A Spell On You” serenaded the viewers as the camera rolled onto Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) going through his daily routine amidst the Seattle skyline.
As someone who read the book, this struck me as something that deviated from the novel, as it was always narrated from Anastasia Steele’s (Dakota Johnson) perspective. Words like “my inner goddess” (the portrayal of which in the movie is totally and unfairly omitted, by the way) seem to have melted mostly the female readers into a puddle of over-sensitized nerve-endings, but we don’t see that in the movie.
What irks me is that, in the beginning, director Sam Taylor-Johnson tries to play it off as a rom-com. Anastasia is a senior college student and a virgin who likes to put pencils in her mouth with “GREY” written on them and suck on them erotically (of course, done subconsciously), while Christian is a busy billionaire who owns too many ties and who Anastasia happens to interview. They meet, ask each other questions and shoot loaded glances from across the table. All the while, the movie progresses in a way much like Twilight, in which the sexy hero has a mysterious outlook of the world and a way with words that outshines being a sparkling vampire and, of course, the virgin likes to bite her lip way too much, while also being interested in old English novels.
But then, suddenly, the tone of the movie changes. Christian starts talking about taking his shirt off (while middle-aged ladies in the audience shout “Lord Jesus, yes”) and having his way with Anastasia. While here the movie starts delving into the infamous “Submissive Contract,” and Anastasia loses her virginity, what amazes the most is the soundtrack. Beyoncé’s “Haunted” and “Crazy in Love” wow and so does Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do,” which, in your critic’s humble opinion, are what make up one and a half of the two stars that are relegated to this movie by multiple critics, websites and blogs. Numbers by The Weeknd, Sia, AWOLNATION, Frank Sinatra and The Rolling Stones are also featured during parts of the movie, lending it at least some semblance of an air of sophistication as well as a light poignancy.
Whether the original story is about abuse or consensual sex has been hotly debated by almost everyone; the movie tries to play off this issue. Not until the very end of the movie do we actually see any type of physical “punishment” or “abuse;” however, Christian is shown to “punish” Anastasia sexually. And by punish, I mean softly tying up her hands with a silk tie and rubbing peacock feathers over her. While the sex scenes attempted to present tastefully, the context of the scenes were shrouded in the BDSM world, where Grey’s “Red Room of Pain” — called so by Anastasia — looked like the inside of an Amsterdam Red Light District room, not inclusive of black lights and strobes.
In the film, Christian and Anastasia went over her “hard” and “soft” limits, for example blindfolds, floggers and the like. Grey also mentioned the woman who had seduced him when he was 15, first introducing him to the BDSM lifestyle. Anastasia called it “child abuse” and calls that woman “Mrs. Robinson.” All of this is portrayed in the movie exactly as it is in the book but, during this very short conversation, we only get to see a glimpse of the darkness that lies within Christian’s heart. Christian, breaking tradition, is the more sexually objectified character in the movie, while in the book the focus is more on his emotions rather than his gorgeous body. Dornan’s portrayal of Christian is sometimes en pointe and sometimes awkward; I felt bad for him when he had to say “I don’t make love, I fuck. Hard.” (Here the female audience went “Mhmmm.”)
Johnson’s acting is at first cute, with drunken incidents and accidental falls (when she is “saved” by Christian) and then suddenly this erotic woman tries seducing you through the screen and this gives the viewer a feeling of whiplash. It is no coincidence that people get notions about abuse when they see this movie or read the books; there is a distinct aura of a lion stalking his prey in Dornan’s character.
There is much to discuss regarding the limits of dominant/submissive relationships and domestic abuse, but, for now, Fifty Shades of Grey has only one saving grace — its music. If you go see it with your partner, don’t be surprised if, later, he wants to make love to you while listening to the soundtrack.