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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey



"Try to keep an open mind," Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) urges Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) during their many negotiations for her to join him in his Red Room of Pain. By now, nearly everyone has made up their mind about Fifty Shades of Grey, whether or not they watch this glossy blockbuster feature film adaptation by Sam Taylor-Johnson, read the 100-million-selling novels by E.L. James, or refuse to deign to do either. 

In Fifty Shades, recent college graduate Anastasia Steele meets the lust of her loins in billionaire Christian Grey, and vice versa. She's aimless, sexually inexperienced, and bites her lip a lot. He's obscenely wealthy, controlling, and her lip biting really turns him on. Grey would be a charming guy if he had anything resembling charm or a personality; his seduction tactics include stalking her, buying her expensive things, emotional manipulation, and urging her to sign a contract. The contract is really important to him -- Anastasia might acquiesce if the contract were a pre-nup and he intended to marry her, but nope, he needs her to sign in agreement to let him tie her up and whip her to his heart's content. 

Grey is a self-described Dominant, engaged and thriving in a secret BDSM lifestyle since he was turned onto it as a teenager by a friend of his mother's (Marcia Gay Harden). He matter of factly doesn't "do" romance, or genuine intimacy, or much at all resembling comforting human behavior. The more we learn of Christian Grey's past, his poor upbringing, and his bizarre sexual history, the remarkably less interesting he becomes. And he ain't that interesting to begin with. Grey is a dull conversationalist, which is the first thing we learn in their meet cute, when Anastasia arrives to interview him for her college newspaper. But he is "hot," apparently, and wealthy. Imagine Tony Stark without the wit, genius, or innate desire to better himself. Or Bruce Wayne without everything that makes Batman actually admirable.

If anyone is dominant in Fifty Shades of Grey, it's Dakota Johnson. Throwing herself into what's she is determined to be a star-making role, Johnson plays Anastasia with a pleasing mix of skepticism, anticipation, and even savvy humor. Even as she desires Grey (but not at all his wealth), she displays an appropriate amount of weariness and outrage at his methods of turning up uninvited at her work or when she's visiting her mother in Georgia. The best laugh in the movie is when she drunkenly mocks his wild, confusing mood swings over the phone: "Come here! No, stay away! Come closer! I'm not the man for you!" Anastasia gives Christian's lifestyle the ol' college try, but she has "hard limits" (their negotiation about those limits over a business meeting is more crackling than any of the sex they have in his Red Room of Pain). Anastasia is at least fully cognizant of how unfair Christian Grey's behavior is; his agreement to take her on a date once a week and referring to her as his girlfriend to a stranger is akin to a Superbowl victory for her. 

There's really only two ways this story can go: either Anastasia Steele goes all in or she walks out. She takes her sweet time deciding, and samples the plethora of Christian's whips and chains in the process, but the movie's pulse isn't in the orgasm, as it is in the novel, but more about whether this guy is capable of being a decent human being. His sexual proclivities aren't nearly his alarming as his controlling nature. Strip the wealth and male model looks away, and the guy is a creep. There seems to be no bettering Christian Grey; he's perfectly content to be whipping Submissives in his Red Room of Pain until he's old and grey. He'd most prefer that Submissive be Anastasia Steele. Fifty Shades of Grey is a moneymaking machine, like its male protagonist, but also like Christian Grey, the movie is an empty suit, whether or not Christian is wearing one of his bespoke grey suits.