BDSM: Beyoncé Doesn’t Save Movie

BDSM: Beyoncé Doesn’t Save Movie

by -

The new "Fifty Shades of Grey" movie blurs the line between "submission" and "exploitation."

Jaime Dornan and Dakota Johnson starring in "Fifty Shades of Grey." Taken from breitbart.com.

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Wait, no, it is a commercial for unhealthy sexual relationships masquerading as the plot of an erotic Valentine’s Day flick! Don’t let the kind of perfect Queen Bey additions to the soundtrack or deceivingly artistic promotional photos fool you. If you thought it was impossible for a film to be simultaneously horrifying and lackluster, maybe you haven’t yet seen “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

The inspiration for the film lies in a “Twilight” fan fiction penned by a woman who dubbed herself “Snow Queen’s Ice Dragon,” so, in all fairness, I should not have been expecting anything groundbreaking or progressive. However, this flick managed to disappoint even in the Galentine’s Day outing department – we’re talking expectations of class about the level of “Dance Moms” – but, when The Weeknd started serenading me through the credits, I was unexpectedly left feeling disappointed and honestly, a little disgusted.

The scene: Seattle written from the perspective of a person who obviously has never been there.

The stars: Jamie Dornan, The Fall actor, stands centerstage in Fifty Shades of Watching Paint Dry as Christian Grey, a mega-rich CEO whose company is so mysteriously successful that he can take days off at a time to stalk v card-toting literature majors. Newcomer Dakota Johnson plays the prop-of-a-human-being who fits that very description, Ana Steele. Her talents include acting as a placeholder for all wanton, middle-aged women and making astute observations, such as “Christian, that’s a car.”

Sadly, the parts of this film that kept me awake – no, really, a third of my group actually fell asleep out of boredom– were the ones that had my RA senses tingling: the warning signs of an abusive relationship. The movie starts out causal enough. Steele literally stumbles into the arms of Grey when she plays the all-too-familiar amateur journalist (albeit, a stand-in one) who sleeps with her source. The two maneuver the complexities of your run-of-the-mill sex contract all the while holding glasses out of which they, maddeningly enough, never even drink; but, then, even worse than wasted wine is the moment you realize that what claims to be a BDSM relationship is missing the essential keys to kink: trust and respect.

It is not inherently problematic that flirting and flogging are intertwined in the film; an individual’s sex life is his or her own, and it is absolutely okay for couples to choose to enage in whatever consensual sexual acts they choose. The NSFW nature of the movie was not at all bothersome. Rather, it was the NSFWomen part that had me regretting my ticket purchase. It was the transition from Grey staring seductively to glaring angrily at Steele and the writers’ confusion between sexual exploration and blatant exploitation. You see, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is not simply another Magic Mike” type movie to see with your “gal pals.” It is not a sexy, fun flick to laugh at like I imagine a lot of people, like me, anticipated.

As I stretched out in my seat for the 125 minute-long Audi commercial, something did not sit well with me. As the “plot” progressed, it became increasingly clear that the movie was not about in-bedroom handcuffs. It was about post-coital control. While I can appreciate that there are moments where director Sam Taylor-Johnson allows Ana her agency, overall, Grey dictates Steele’s daily life, like her diet and wardrobe, as well as when she leaves town. These scenes are sandwiched between romantic dinner scenes and stunning skyline shots as if to soften the blow, so to speak.

Now, I know what you are thinking. Regardless of my journalistic intentions, I did make the trip to the theater. I paid for a ticket, and I played a part in the very story I am now picking apart. So, it would be incredibly hypocritical for me to pass judgment on any person who chooses to cash in their CUAt the Movies freebie this week for “Fifty Shades.” If you don’t buy my above commentary on how not worth it the film was, that is absolutely your prerogative. Or, if you think watching soft porn in a theater full of Jewell kids would be hilarious, I understand.  (I mean, I once paid to see “Ouija” in theaters. Sometimes you just have to see stupid things with your friends. I get it) But, I do want to make a few recommendations as both a movie-goer and advocate for safe, healthy relationships.

I would suggest utlilizing “Fifty Shades of Grey” as a diving board. I personally used this movie to propel my dinner table discussion from the shallow end (e.g. jokes about how often the Quad is mowed, arguments about Meryl Streep’s finest roles) to the depths: the place you have to flounder a little bit to find your footing, the place that makes you question what you think you know.  Reflect on the film and place the storyline into a more reality-based frame. Man follows young college student to her workplace. Man steals her away from a bar where she is out with her friends even when she doesn’t ask for assistance. Man stalks her to find out the address of her apartment and magically makes his way inside. Man sells her car without her permission. Man has really great pecs and lives in an apartment with killer vaulted ceilings so it’s justified?

Secondly, I would implore you to think long and hard about the implications of movie world morality. I hear you: not every movie that features a troubling storyline is automatically problematic. I understand that stories are not always meant to be life lessons – I mean, we revel in the nastiness of Frank Underwood from “House of Cards,” but we do not follow his example. By the end of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” a three-hour cocaine bath, no one wanted to be the heap of indictments that was Jordan Belfort. So why does “Fifty Shades of Grey” seem different to me? I believe it is because the dangers riddling the plotline are not challenged or reprimanded in any way, unlike Ana. The character consents, but cries. She issues challenges, but is eventually kept quiet. The character is a cardboard cutout of her own resolve, seemingly strong and autonomous until the slightest touch quite literally knocks her to her knees. It is worth exploring what the glamorization of violence in media means for real world relations. Since we unfortunately live in a time in which spousal violence against both women and men is incredibly prevalent, isn’t the sexed-up illustration of partner manipulation worth even the smallest amount of our consideration? Did that last line sound like an Eminem lyric? Are these all important questions? I sure think so.

And finally, reader, I leave you with the words of people who actually make money by writing. Learn about how real BDSM relationships can actually be healthy and meaningful. Read Emma Green’s piece that absolutely nails the importance of context. You do not have to take my word for it; check out this character breakdown that talks about Ana’s lack of independence. And then, after you wade through all of that feminist critique, enjoy this simply perfect review by The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane.

My commentary on “Fifty Shades of Grey” is not foolproof, but I promise you that is is heartfelt. I care deeply about the safety of my peers, and friends don’t let friends believe that Christian Grey’s anger and revenge-kink is the equivalent of steamy sex or romance.

If he wants to whisk you away in his fancy drone-like plane, go for it. Feel the wind in your hair. However, if he wants to follow you around, break into your room and make you feel like you cannot use safe words without making him angry, that is a good place to draw the line and immediately alert your RA. And that, reader, is why I penned this. The truth is, the cliffhanger ending of the first in the series will likely fall away to reveal the same impersonation of pro-woman ideals in the second installment. I honestly wish I would have skipped this trigger warning of a movie in the first place, but now that I have come out on the other side, I am just more resolved to think through what I watch and to which production companies I give my money. When the next movie comes out, I will just listen to the soundtrack on Spotify for free and call it good. Honestly, I would rather crush the partiarchy than prop it up with an excuse like “it’s just a movie.” Down with glamorizing domestic violence. Up with more movies that take place in the Pacific Northwest sans stalker boyfriends.

is Editor-in-Chief of the Hilltop Monitor. She is a senior non-profit leadership and psychology major. Mary is the resident assistant in Jones Hall, president of the Non-Profit Leadership Association and is on the executive board for the Independent Student Association.

NO COMMENTS

Leave a Reply