Valentine’s Day. For many, it’s simply another corporate led mush-fest, where couples spend yet more money on pretty cards and flowers to show each other how much they care – like they need a special day for that. But, if I’m honest, I’ve always held a soft spot for February 14. As far as I’m concerned, you can show someone how much you care every day of the year, so it’s simply another day to do just that. I quite like the cheesiness, and can see it as a way to be thankful for that special person you have.
I start with that paragraph because I want to make clear what I think Valentine’s Day represents for people. At it’s heart, when you take away all the profit motivated reasons behind it, it’s a day to express your deep feelings for a person, and to make them happy. It’s about the love, not the lust.
But that’s clearly not how Hollywood sees it, which only becomes extremely apparent now that the long awaited movie based on E.L. James’ 2011 novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, has been released around Valentine’s Day. What worries me is that people may see this flick as a dark but endearing tale about a young man who’s very mixed up, but through finding actual love with an innocent and lovely girl, starts to change – to view the world differently. It might be argued this is about two people who find each other, open each other’s eyes, and ultimately begin to see the world in a different way. This is not that movie.
This is a shocking, horrifying, eye-watering, glamorised, pornographic, disgusting highlight of psychological and physical abuse, dressed up in Christian Grey’s (Jamie Dornan) smart suit. To call it anything else is to attempt to give it credit it does not deserve. I didn’t really want to see it, but I agreed to go with my better half, and if I’m honest I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. Sadly, I admit to having read all the Twilight books and seen all the movies (I shudder at the very memory), so I expected that many of the problems I had with Twilight, I would have with this also. But, after having watched this presentation, I came to a very interesting and surprising conclusion: I would rather have a thousand Bella and Edwards than the horror that is Ana Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey.
So, in I walked with my girlfriend, huge box of popcorn in hand, to find we’ve been seated next to a group of rather intoxicated middle-aged women who were already laughing their heads off. Normally, a situation like that would have annoyed me; if anyone makes any noise in Avengers: Age of Ultron I cannot be held responsible for my actions. But I actually found it rather funny. Hearing them wet themselves all the way through, I thought, would add some enjoyment to the film if the actual movie wasn’t providing any.
On the adverts rolled, and they must have been the most sex driven load of advertisements I have ever seen. The cinema knew it’s audience, alright. I mean, there was not even a single Avengers trailer anywhere. Not one! But I had no time to complain about that. The lights dimmed, the logos shone – it had begun.
If I can say anything for this film, it looks gorgeous. The cinematography is frankly stunning in some scenes, the ‘business meeting’ between Ana and Christian standing out for me. It’s a very colourful movie, and director Sam Taylor-Johnson does everything she can to give us something pretty to look at. The leads, as well, are on the whole very good. Dakota Johnson did seem a little bland at first, but I later realised that it was the character to blame, not the actress herself. Johnson is the perfect choice for Ana, and she pulls off the confusion and innocence the character feels brilliantly. She’s also superb later on, when poor Ana realizes just how “50 Shades of fucked up” Christian Grey really is. This can’t have been an easy part to play, but Johnson really does nail it, and it is one of the very few saving graces of the movie.
Jamie Dornan is also very effective as Christian Grey. Yes, he’s got the looks but he also pulls off the mysterious billionaire banker very well. Again, this is not an easy part to play, and he does what he can with it. He’s also rather intimidating in some scenes, which I’m not sure the film realises, or was going for. And I’m not talking about how he likes to tie Ana up and play kinky sex games with her. I’m talking about something much, much darker.
Yes, there is plenty of sex as well, the big draw for both the movie and the books it’s based on. I suppose I can give the movie a bit of a thumbs up here too – the sex is there to drive whatever story they are trying to tell forward, as opposed to just being there. Whenever Christian and Ana have a love making scene (sorry, in Christian’s own terms, I mean when he fucks her) you can see how it changes their relationship, and the effect it has on both characters. I suppose the BDSM stuff is done well, if you’re into that kind of thing, and it is directed with skill. I’ll even go as far as to say that, in terms of the way the story is structured, the acting and the directing, this is the best possible movie that could have come from the novel Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s interesting how I can still think a movie is actually quite well made, and still hate everything it stands for. This may be a well-made film, but it is far, far, far from being a good one.
So let’s talk about the infamous Christian Grey. The movie presents an intriguing backstory of how he was abused as a child, by both his birth mother and some dominatrix when he was in his teens. So, now an adult man who has everything, he likes to explore this abuse with other women, delighting in causing them pain. Because that, fundamentally, is what drives Christian Grey. He’s not looking for love. He’s not looking for anything. He’s a sociopath.
From the second he sees Ana in his office, he knows he has to have her. He stalks her, turning up at her work, even at one point breaking into her apartment. When she calls him whilst intoxicated, he turns up at the club demanding to know why she’s been drinking, and this is just very early on in the movie, when the two of them barely know each other. He takes her back to his hotel, undresses her and even sleeps next to her. When she asks him if they did anything, he calmly responds he’s not into necrophilia. If you had no idea where this story was going, you could easily think it was going down a very dark, obsessive stalker path, except the stalker is a billionaire with unlimited resources to make your life hell. Hey, that actually sounds like a bloody good idea for a movie! I’d pay to see that!
But it gets worse.
Ana isn’t freaked out by this. Like Twlight’s Bella before her, an obviously mixed up and dangerous person stalking her delights her, and she’s instantly drawn to him. Why is this? Also like Bella, it’s because he’s an extremely handsome man in a smart suit, and her life is just so boring and without meaning when he’s not in it. There are several moments when it looks like Ana is taking control of the situation, such as making Christian wait around to hear from her, but the only impression I ever took from those scenes was how it was all an illusion. By this point, Christian knows he has her right where he wants her. He lets her think she’s keeping him waiting and pretends to be bothered by it. In reality, he’s just playing a mind game with her, but he’s much better at playing it than her – and all this before any of the BDSM had taken place.
By this point, I was appalled. I just didn’t get how so many women in 2015 can see a story like this and find it entertaining, and even find themselves being drawn to Christian Grey. The man does everything one would expect of a dangerous and obsessive stalker, except it’s hidden behind his looks and his money. Even the little things, like sending her a bottle of wine with a helicopter balloon attached to it, just to remind her of her amazing helicopter ride with him, are all ways of keeping her under his control. I say again, this would be a fascinating tale of obsession and how dangerous getting close to the wrong person can be, but that’s not what this story is about. Unfortunately, Ana doesn’t come to her senses and send him packing. She laps it up! She simply can’t get enough of him. He intrigues her, mystifies her, and she can’t keep away.
After a good forty minutes into the film, we finally got there. Christian takes her into his home and presents her with a contract. If she signs it, she agrees to be totally submissive to him and to do anything he says. He can tie her up, torture her, have her in every which way he craves, and she can do nothing about it. She also has to eat certain things, dress in certain ways and sleep in a separate bedroom to him. She can’t have any other sexual partners, or for that matter even associate with another member of the opposite sex. He informs her this is the only way she can have him. He doesn’t do dates, doesn’t do romance, just fucks. Oh, and she’s not the first. He’s stalked other women before her and convinced them to do this with him. So, how in the name of hell are we supposed to think he actually cares for Ana here, and not see him for what he really is?
Freaked out yet? Well, it gets worse. Ana is, admittedly, a bit hesitant at first, and asks him to give her some time. He does not comply. He sells her car and buys her a fancy new one, all so she can drive to him when he summons her. He buys her a laptop so he can email her whenever he pleases (and probably tap into her webcam). He introduces himself as her boyfriend to her step-father, again painting the illusion that she’s changing him – because she is just so special to him. I’m not sure if this was all supposed to show the audience how Christian can care about someone, and how he’s falling for her despite himself. But I don’t buy it. All that’s happening here is Christian asserting his control. Ana never does sign that contract, but she does agree to his kinky sex games. And thus, it begins.
I’m no prude. People like to do different, exciting things in the bedroom, and the bondage stuff isn’t the problem here at all. If this was a story of how two people want to explore their limits together, I could have got behind it. But I actually feared for Ana here. When he was tying her down, leaving her completely defenseless, I genuinely wouldn’t have been surprised if he had killed her. And the worst is still to come. Ana tells Christian she’s going to visit her mother, and he’s furious with her. How dare she do anything that isn’t what he wants? Unhappy to let her do this, he tells her he’s off out to dinner with someone else, to get her jealous and missing him. Then, he turns up as if on cue, after watching her and her mother go out for drinks.
It’s the last half an hour, however, when things finally get too much for Ana, and Christian reveals what this has really all been about for him: he wants to cause her pain. He gets off on it. He even wants her to act like she’s enjoying it too. Poor Ana thinks he won’t be able to go through with it, that he’ll stop himself, because he loves her so much. But he doesn’t, because this guy cannot love. He’s a fucking psychopath.
And then it ends. Just like that. A cliffhanger of sorts, with a promise of the next two movies due out in the coming years. Except they’ll probably split book 3 into 2, as that seems to be what all the cool kids are doing these days.
This movie was awful. At it’s core, it’s a mortifying portrayal of a sexual predator. He stalks Ana, takes over her life, and always has to be in control. He makes her completely fall for him, so he knows she’ll do anything he wants her to do. Christian Grey as a character could be interesting to explore, especially when taking his history into account, except this is not what the movie wants you to do. It wants you to fall in love with him. Like Ana, it begs you to be mesmerised by his good looks, his money, his… other habits. It wants you to see how Ana is changing him, and appreciate how brilliant their love story is. It wants women to watch this and wish they had their own Christian Grey waiting for them at home. In short, it’s all the wrong messages of the insipid Twilight Saga, ramped up to the heavens.
There is nothing likeable about Christian Grey. He’s a seriously messed up individual, who has been sexualised and given international stardom instead of the prison cell he deserves. I can scarcely believe that the author and the filmmakers do not seem to realise this and simply want us to love Christian and find out more about him. Well, I don’t. A movie that glorifies domestic abuse just because it comes from a good-looking billionaire is just about as low as it gets. Yes, it’s going to make a bloody fortune, and it’s sequel is already in pre-production, but I for one am done and certainly won’t be paying to see the next one. No stars, and that’s giving it more credit than it deserves.