In my junior year of high school I fell madly in love with a senior. He was incredibly smart, funny and handsome, and the impact he had on me still resonates even after all this time. It all started when I interviewed him for the school paper. I took myself very seriously, and rolled in with three notebooks full of notes and questions about a life that had only existed for seventeen total years. I insisted on a professional decorum that he systematically chipped away with satiric one liners and majestically arched single eyebrows. I don’t recall ever trying so hard not to smile for any other hour of my life.
It was a year long affair of dance in, and dance out, and I mean that figuratively and literally. We were drawn to each other, that intangible sound of you/me, me/you that crackles when some people meet, roaring over and through you as if you were a character in Deep Impact, and the asteroid hit. We drink to feel a shadow of that sensation of utter sublime joy and peace, fueled paradoxically by adrenaline, and a roaring sound in your ears that deafens you to all others.
Our romance unfolded like a Dramedy. We’d see each other at least once a day, and at the school dances I photographed for the yearbook, he would find me, ask me to dance and sweep me away with the smell of Polo cologne and the possibility of possibility. He was funny, I was funny, and I couldn’t wait to do it all over again the next day or the day after, until our days ran out.
On his graduation night we had a few hours together. I was late, he had to leave early, and even as it all slipped through my fingers, I could feel them flexing, trying to hold on to something of this time with him. We’d been sitting around a fire talking with our friends when suddenly, someone started playing Dust In The Wind. Pulling me to my feet and dragging me closer to the sound of the music, he pulled me into his arms, and told me this was his favorite song.
I was on the verge of tears, choking on all the things I wanted to say before he left me, and all I could do was hold on tight, and try not to let him step on my toes, which he did. He did every time we danced, and we always laughed about it. We laughed that night. We were laughing when his hands came up to my face, and he leaned down closer. I had time to think, “Oh, he’s going to kiss me!” and to realize that I was more than fine with that. It would be our first kiss, made even more special by the fact that we were about to be separated by time and circumstance beyond our control.
Just as his lips were about to touch mine, someone called my name, and startled, I turned to the sound. It was less than a second, but the moment was gone, and when I turned back to face him the possibility of our kiss was gone. Magic had been replaced by awkwardness, and all the time we had, had run out, leaving me with decades to ponder The Power of the Almost Kiss.
We’ve seen it in countless stories, shows and movies. They meet, the tension builds, and you close the book, or turn the TV off, feeling a little bit of that high you got when love was yours, even if it was only an idea you held in your head, leaving the object of your affection clueless and unaffected. You anticipate the eventual, perhaps inevitable, kiss with the kind of dizzy excitement that rivals a substance based high, spinning on the chemicals in your brain, maybe because you are emotionally invested in the characters, but more likely because you identify with them in some way. That identification makes their first kiss, your first kiss, all over again.
There are varying schools of thought on how long you can let the tension build before you overshadow the event. One thing most agree on, when the bubble of tension breaks, and the first kiss is kissed, the story is over. There is nothing else to anticipate, and we move on to the next new thing, seeking that high in a new place with new characters.
I don’t agree that the story is over after the kiss. I happen to think the firsts never have to run out, and that the deeper you go the more interesting people become. It’s a different power than The Power of the Almost Kiss, but it’s still a good power. We crash and bash each other with sharp edges, buffered by soft lips and softer sighs when The Kiss happens. We smooth each other out, buffing out the chips, and reinforcing the weak places with patience and love on the other side of The Kiss. One is exciting, the other affirming. Depending on where you are in life, there is a time and a need for both.
Still, decades later, I wonder if it is The Power of the Almost Kiss that makes him stand out so vividly in my mind, and pushes me to write about him, now, before, always. There have been other loves, and I remember them fondly, taking with me the marks they left on the person I am, and folding their memories into the mix of the person I will be. He will forever remain the unattainable dream, the best kiss I never had, the possibility of possibility.
*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.
PG-13 | 1h 56min | Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi | 11 November 2016 (USA)
IMDB Summary: When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.
I wanted to see this film when it came out, despite not being a fan of either lead. Renner ruined his stance with me when he called the Black Widow a slut while on the movie tour for Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. (Chris Evans lost some points with me for that one as well.)
Amy Adams has just never appealed to me, but maybe that’s because the first time I saw her she was trying to oppress her poor cousin Tara on BtVS to:
“Come home and cook and fetch for the menfolk like a good woman should! How dare you be so selfish you want to educate yourself, and have a life of your own! You know your ignorant brother and father will starve, what with no one there to open the canned beans for them! Yer evil!”
Yes, I know it was a character she played, but she played it so well that almost twenty years later, even remembering that shit, makes my skin crawl. *shivers*
It’s entirely possible that, that is a testimony to her acting skills, as much as Renner’s downer is a testimony to the double standard of sexuality being alive and thriving. However, now that I look at the reasons I am not a fan of either, in black and white, I just realized they are exactly the same thing.
Both are about oppressing women. Hrm.
[Sidebar: Honestly, I have always been slightly more tolerant of men who behave this way than women, because to me it’s a deeper betrayal for a woman to oppress another woman.
Logically, I realize this is not fair, because oppressive behavior, actions, and speech, are learned behaviors for both men and women. Both sexes are equally capable of being warped by learning the behaviors of the people around them, with all that implies.
Still, I hold the bar higher for women, and expect more, reasonable or not. End sidebar:]
As I watched this movie I thought what I always think, which is, why do we keep inviting aliens to Earth when inevitably in film, and in real life our first go to reaction is to kill them?
I remember I was floored when I learned that in 1977 aboard the Voyager spacecraft, we sent out a map to our world, some of our basic mathematics, and DNA samples. Yeah, think about that. There was some Mozart, too, but still.
How do we behave when move to a new neighborhood here on earth? Do we offer up anywhere near that level of information to strangers that actually, share our DNA? No. We get to know them before we tell them the spare key is under the fake rock by the back door. We get to know them before we have them over to listen to our old Dobbie Brothers vinyl’s.
We sent another invite out this past year on another probe, and all I can think every time I hear it is: FFS, STOP IT!
All you have to do is look at the news to see that the most advanced civilizations on this planet can be xenophobic assholes, even when it comes to other human beings. What do you think is going to happen if a different SPECIES takes us up on that invitation?
Now, I used to think that the great Think Tank of scientists, and the movers and shakers must be more ready than I know to so flippantly yell to the universe, “PARTY ON THE THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN! FOLLOW THESE COORDINATES!” and then just wait around to if anyone shows up.
However, if we’ve learned anything in 2017, it’s that the brain trust who might have handled this with reason and diplomacy is gone. We, the entire world, seem to be regressing back into a period of low tolerance for diversity among our own species.
What the ever-loving fuck would be the point of bringing someone else into this, at least until we can grow up a little more? Again, if the parents are fighting, do you invite your friends over to sit on the couch and watch? To possibly get hit with a flying dish as they scream and battle it out? Probably not. At least I hope not.
In Arrival, they do try and talk to them first, but eventually it does end up in the predictable, if honest, spot of, we can’t trust them! We can’t trust the Chinese! We can’t trust the Russians! Fuck it, let’s kill everyone! (See, it’s not like we don’t know this about ourselves, I don’t know why we play.)
But, at the last minute the day is saved, and we hold off long enough to learn something. The reason this ending works for me, is because of what one of the aliens told Amy’s character close to the end. The aliens HAD to make this work, and I believe that they would have stayed, and sacrificed themselves repeatedly, until they found someone, one person, smart enough to understand what they were offering. I can believe that much more easily than having people suddenly become rational and intelligent beings.
This movie is a master class in the complexity of language, and how it is, as stated in the movie, “the greatest weapon.” The imprecise nature of how we communicate is illuminated, and shown to be a potential source of so much of the strife we have today in our world. I recommend this movie to any writer or linguist, and caution this is the deep end of the pool.
Overall, I love the concept of the story. I have a deep and abiding love for the higher ideas that exist in this film, and have since I was a teen. I knew it was special, I just didn’t anticipate how special, or how much I would love it.
Currently renting on Amazon Pay per view at $3.99 for SD, and I think it’s well worth it.