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50 Shades of Grey Review

It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: SPOILERS AHEAD

CAVEAT 1: I haven't read the books as such, I've only read recaps. I want to plug in one of my favorite sex-positive BDSM feminist bloggers here:



Another great recap I've read was done by BDSM erotica writer Jenny Trout; here is her most recent 50-Shades related post that contains an amazing list of resources for victims of domestic violence. You can find her recap via googling, if you'd like.


I have to say that after watching the movie, I have the impression that all of the tension reported between director Sam Taylor-Johnson and EL James must have been because Taylor-Johnson was pretty invested in showing how truly fucking abusive and unsexy this entire premise is. I can only describe the movie as a lovingly directed domestic violence PSA. The sex scenes (with the exception of one) were completely un-sexy, but the abusive, manipulative behavior was highlighted, and despite the source material Dakota Johnson had to work with, Anastasia's character pushes back remarkably well. It's almost horrible to watch the cycles of honeymoon/tension/explosion repeat themselves and watch her struggling to figure out what the fuck is going on.


That Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson have no chemistry together is not news.


The sex scenes were as terrible as you'd expect from two people who have no chemistry and even less patience for each other. Jamie Dornan looks painfully bored. None of his facial expressions during the movie can be described as even feigning desire. Dakota Johnson's dialogue during scenes with Christian sounds like someone made Siri read 50 Shades out loud. The only scene even remotely titillating happens by what feels like accident- it takes place in Ana's apartment (and seems to be adapted from the books); Christian ties Ana's hands to her metal bedframe and after gently spitting some chardonnay from his mouth into hers (ick.), slides an ice cube down her naked body using his mouth: mostly it's sexy because the leads don't actually have to make any eye contact with each other.

Other than that, the "BDSM" scenes are brief, but there are a few startling moments of true brilliance (that I can't be sure were in the books) where Ana calls Christian out, albeit obliquely, on the fact that he's not into having consensual domination play with her so much that he enjoys hurting her precisely because she's not into it (This isn't even remotely BDSM. It's closer to, you know, rape. Abuse. A rose by any other name.) I was shocked that this was explicit enough to make the audience around me clearly uncomfortable. The climactic (heh) whipping scene at the end is shot with reverence- there is little titillating about it, Ana is in pain and Christian's enjoyment of the pain is evident and monstrous. The treatment of the scene is how I wish shows like Game of Thrones would handle portrayal of rape: frank, unsexualized, not exploitative of sexual violence or its victims. Ana's exit at the end of the movie, her reclaiming of control, her deliberate negation of Christian's abuse is -dare I say it- empowering. If the trilogy stopped here, it could almost be a feminist portrayal of a woman falling for, and subsequently, leaving her abuser.


What left me surprised was that the clearly subversive elements of the film didn't end with Johnson and Dornan's scenes; Ana's mother and her roommate both make kind, firm offers of help and understanding to Ana. They offer her support without judgement, which we so often deny victims of abusive relationships who choose to stay or return to their abusers.

I should also note that in pretty well all of the scenes that Johnson is NOT with Dornan, she shines. She is funny and light and gave the 1 dimensional blank page of a character as much of an inner life as could possibly be hinted. I take back my comments that she is incredibly beige; there is yet hope that she may graduate to bigger and better roles, and I would be interested in seeing what she can do with a better character.



In the "Romance" category: 0/5 stars

In the "Erotica" category: 0.5/5 stars

In the "Domestic Violence PSA" category: 4/5 stars

One last thing I'll say: although the leads had virtually zero chemistry, there may have been more than one moment during the Ana/Kate scenes where I held my breath, hoping they'd make out. Dakota Johnson and Eloise Mumford were positively flirty and fun on screen - now THAT'S erotica I'd watch.


I leave you all with this gem: a writer attempts to have all the sex from 50 shades in one weekend.




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