*SPOILERS FOR LIFE, LOVE and 50 Shades Series*
My first introduction to 50 Shades of Grey was in a meeting at work. Before the meeting started two of the ladies were discussing the series, I was only listening. One of them was gasping about the details of the book, and the other dismissed it, saying that she was not interested because she had heard it was not well written. It was because of that comment on the writing that I decided no matter how titillating the material was I would be turned off rather than on because of the quality of the writing, and decided to forgo the series.
Flash forward several years, and a friend I met on line recommended the book to me. I had been subjected to dozens of other conversations, by then, that usually went one of two ways:
I can’t believe what they do in these books!
I can’t believe what they do in these books!
The only variance was in the tone. The first was somewhat awed, and a little reverent. The second was scandalized and disgusted.
It was amusing that the tone was the only thing that varied.
I had refused to participate in any of these discussions, because I had elected not to read the series, and I refuse to speak on something that I have not partaken in first hand, and formed my own opinion about.
The only thing worse than an opinion flung out into the universe at random, is an uneducated opinion flung out into the universe at random.
That said, curiosity and a Prime Amazon Membership, landed me at 50 Shades of Grey the movie.
I blame Jamie Dornan for the fact that I fell in love with the story. I adored him in The Fall, and Once Upon A Time, so to find his dimples here, probably went a long way toward softening me up to the story. His smile is…sublime, and when he gifts it to us on the screen, it feels like the sun is coming out on what had been a cloudy day. I can’t guarantee the idea of sadist seducing a virgin, with the intention of turning her into a submissive would have played as well with me, if anyone else had been in that role, but he was, and here we are.
I watched the first movie over and over until my computer began to cry and beg for mercy. Then being the obsessive compulsive I am, I gifted EL James with some of my hard earned buckage, and purchased her novels, including Grey, which is just book 1, told from his POV.
The lady in the first meeting was correct. The writing was horrible. I mean that from a technical stand point, and in some places from an aesthetic one. Still, through all that, I was obsessed with this story and had to see it to the end.
At its base level, it’s about just what I said before: A sadist who sets out to seduce a virgin into being his submissive.
That distinction is important, because the character is lying to himself and to her about what he is. He claims to be a Dominant, but she calls on that, and tells him right of the gate that he’s a sadist; something he later admits to, and explains in the series.
Anastasia Steele has some characteristics that I despise in a female lead, but she has some others that I admire as well. She can be weak an whiny, filled with self-doubt and self-hatred, all of which can be turned into something dark and sharp by a sadistic relationship, but instead of that happening, she manages to rise up and drag him with her, showing him a world that he has never known before.
The problem, if there is one here, is that most of the people who read this, or see this, are not capable of seeing through the window dressing of toys and riches to the heart of the story, and it’s an oldie but a goodie:
“You’re broken. I can fix you.”
Women, countless women, myself included a time or two, have fallen into that trap. What makes this an interesting concept, under the bad writing, is that BOTH of them are saying those words to each other.
He says: “You’re meant to be a submissive, but you are confused. I can fix you.”
She says: “You’re meant to be in relationship where someone loves you, and you can love them in return with no rules to protect you, but you are confused. I can fix you.”
It is that alone that makes this story a FANTASY.
Most people think it’s a fantasy because 1) no one would let you tie them up and do those things, and 2) he’s a billionaire with nothing but time to spank chicks with daddy issues.
Nope. The fantasy is thinking you can fix someone else. That is the biggest trap in the universe. You can lose yourself in that and never see the light of day again.
However, using the traits that I admire, she tells him, I can’t do this. I love you, but this isn’t going to work out, and she leaves him, and she means it. Good for her. I mean that. If you’ve ever been in love then you might have some idea how hard it is to leave that person behind. She does it.
But where it gets interesting is that in accepting she can’t fix him, he decides to fix himself.
Yeah. THAT is why I fell in love with this story. Because I think that love can inspire you to fix yourself. It was amazing to see that play out.
50 Shades is not a story for those with shallow minds or faint hearts, because real emotion is the messiest fucking thing in the world. I’m sure those kinds of people enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong. They toddled right out and bought some EL James sex toys and some EL James wine and went right home to call each other Ana and Christian in scenes that even my brain dares not contemplate, but I doubt any of them got the point of the story.
Some of the most important scenes were left out of the movie, and were vastly misunderstood in the books as well. Whether the author had the savvy to understand what she was writing, only she knows for sure, but sometimes great things happen by accident.
The scene in the bathroom in Georgia being one of the most important of all, and one of the most graphic. The intimacy in that scene, coupled with Grey’s thoughts in his version of the story, speak to a depth that most people only play at, pretending they feel all there is to feel while keeping themselves safe behind invisible walls that most people dare not shatter.
Grey’s damage left him with hard structure and rules about how things go, while at the same time opening him up to level of intimacy that scares most people too much to even consider it. That is his appeal. That fearlessness, as long as he in control, to find anything and everything acceptable. He is fearless about the art of sex, and terrified of the emotion that is involved in it.
I can’t imagine what it would be like for an actor to be faced with these scenes. They are supposed to tear you down, and open you up, and to submit to that utterly would, I think, blur the line between pretense and truth, because experiencing them would bond you to the people with you, in ways that you are not bonded even to your real life chosen mates.
Can that be done? Can you pretend to be these people, and do these things and not be irrevocably marked by them? Should you be? Should these things even be on film?
Those are bigger questions than I can answer. What I will say is that after watching Dakota Johnson on Fallon, stutter and blush about the role of Anastasia Steele, I was bored and disgusted. If I were so inept at speaking about that things I had already done, I probably wouldn’t have bothered taking the role, and it makes me wonder why she did.
I almost wish this movie had been made somewhere else, other than the US. There are dozens countries who could have done the relationship between these characters justice, without the oppressive middle school attitude about sex that seems to dominate in the US. Look at Last Tango in Paris, or In the Realm of the Senses, both made forty years ago, and much better portrayals of intimate physical relationships than what we get even today in the US, where only the women have to take their clothes off for plot relevance.
This story has been touted as being criminally wrong by practitioners of the BDSM community, abusive by thousands of people who have and have not read it/seen it, and labeled as ‘mommy porn’ in all the derisiveness those words can summon. Despite, that it is one of the best-selling series in the last decade, and has been turned into a formula for other writers to be labeled with: “The New 50 Shades!” As if the only stories we can tell now are only derivative copies of what’s already been done.
We are, as a species, people who measure where we stand by looking at those around us. We do it when we agree, and even when we disagree with others, implying, perhaps inaccurately, that our opinions can’t be decided without the help of someone else. We must be stronger than that. We must be wiser than that. We must be better than that.
In the book Ana is swept away by the handsome dynamic man who makes her feel special for the first in her life. In this version when she finds herself and decides to leave him, it feels like it’s only a trope to get another book out.
In the movie, when she leaves him, it feels like she’s making that decision because it’s what’s best for both of them.
Those are two very different things, and for that reason, despite the kid gloves they used to handle the sex scenes, I like the movie better than the book, and believe me that is probably the first time I have ever uttered those words. Without her ridiculous inner monologue that weighs the book down, we get to see a smart strong young woman who is sassy and fun, feeling her way through something big and scary, but that she wants to be a part of, that she is freely choosing the be a part of, from start to finish.
She knew what he was when she went to bed with him, because she wanted him. In the most hotly debated scene of the movie, when he whips her, she ASKED him to do that, because she was wise enough to know that for all his half asssed comments and foreshadowing she could not understand him until she had seen the worst of him. Once she saw it, she was also wise enough to understand that no matter how she felt about him, being that subservient whipping girl was not who she was.
Feminism, by definition is the equality of men and women. Drop the politics, drop the dance and you have two equal partners, with all the same rights, and all the same choices to make. She made that choice, and I don’t see her character diminished in any way for it. I don’t see his diminished in any way either. “This is who I am. I’m fifty shades of fucked up,” he tells her.
It’s hard to hear truth these days. We build bubbles and insulate ourselves from its inconveniences, but nothing changes until we do; nothing in fiction, and nothing in reality. Don’t be distracted by the window dressings.