Every so often, authors like Nicholas Sparks and Stephanie Meyer take the world by storm and dictate the literary community with their romance novels. Most people can get behind a good love story; therefore, most people will feel inclined to financially support said love story and the potential movie forms that may arise.
The movie I’m choosing to analyze, Fifty Shades of Grey directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, is a great example of one of these novels that seem to have taken over the world. That being said, this popularity is harmful. Fifty Shades of Grey poorly portrays relationships due to the weak, abused Anastasia Steele and overly dominant Christian Grey, leaving potential “identificatory practices” of problematic sex and relationships to take place.
This story is all about the relationship that develops between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. Ana is a college student who meets successful businessman, Christian while interviewing him. She is instantly like a moth to a flame when they meet, and the effect is reciprocated by Christian, but in a much more possessive way. He’s intense and mysterious and somehow he lures Ana in. She’s a pure, gentle virgin and he’s a radical, sexual dominant. He treats her to a lavish lifestyle, completely taking over her world. Along with that, he (arguably) stalks her, and he indirectly commands her to become a part of his sexual lifestyle. Christian actively partakes in BDSM, which Wikipedia defines as ”a variety of erotic practices involving dominance and submission, role playing, restraint and other interpersonal dynamics.” This film explores their BDSM themed sexual relationship and how dysfunctional things can be when two vastly different individuals partake in a male dominated relationship.
I originally went to see Fifty Shades of Grey at the AMC Arbor Lakes 16 in Maple Grove, Minnesota with a friend of mine for my video blog project. I paid a pricey $9.50 for my ticket, regretfully. This is an enormous theater, which means there are many opportunities to advertise and attract the moviegoers. There were displays for ICEEs, Kernel Season’s Popcorn Seasonings, Coke products, and various other treats and snacks. This theater also has a dine-in food option as well as a bar. I certainly felt encouraged to buy items at the concession stand due to its location in relation to the theaters: one can’t get to any of the theaters without passing the concessions and the smell of popcorn—a good business strategy, in my opinion. So, I purchased my Diet Coke and small popcorn and was on my way. I went to the movie when it was still fairly recent in theaters, so the place was packed. As one can imagine, there were many couples, groups of ladies, and other random stragglers in the theater, all jazzed about seeing the highly anticipated Fifty Shades of Grey. Before the film began, there was the customary chatter among parties; the quite roar filled the space, but it was hushed once the previews began.
To my surprise, the audience was pretty expressive to the happenings in the film. There were laughs when expected, and unexpected (Ana’s hairy legs when losing her virginity…hair is not that funny, people), but other than that, nothing really all that crazy happened. I expected some “oohs”, “ahs” and other verbal exclamations in that same vein, especially since this is such a graphically sexual movie; however, fewer than I expected were present.
As for my own expectations, I thought I might like the movie a bit more than I did, but I severely despised it. Domestic abuse and sexual abuse are two issues that really hit home for me, so I was basically repelled the whole time, and I left the theater on edge. I was not appalled at the prevalence of sex scenes nor the BDSM, what stirred me was my ability to see beyond the surface of the film. I watched the movie with my feminist glasses on and was ill, whereas my friend who left the theater in a daze wanting that mysterious, sexy boyfriend, and I quote “all of that hot sex.” The reactions that I picked up from others exiting the movie were similar; a lot of people enjoyed it. As expected, though, most thought the book was better, but when isn’t this the case?
To dive further into some feminist perspectives, Mulvey would not have been pleased. At first, Ana is her own person. She’s a fresh college graduate, she lives with a roommate, and she’s a virgin—a decision made because the right guy hadn’t come along; however, once Christian is introduced into her life, he changes her. She becomes the ”image of woman as (passive) raw material” and “the (active) gaze of [the males in the audience]” (Mulvey). She’s no longer her true self, but a product of what Christian wants as well as a sex symbol for the male viewers. Combined with Mulvey’s stance, this situation is also harmful because the women audience members are at risk for identifying with this changed form of Ana, accepting the possibility of being changed and admiring her life: ”While identificatory fantasies (like devotion, adoration, worship) involve the pleasurable feelings experienced by the female spectator while looking at the star, identificatory practices (such as resembling, imitating, coping) refer to extra-cinematic practices involving pro-active self-transformation” (McCabe). As I mentioned in the beginning, it’s no secret that this is a popular film/ series. Women and men most definitely admire this relationship and these sexual practices. They place themselves in the lives of these characters and pro-active self-transformation takes its form. The audience is exposed to poor sexual partners in both situations: forceful men and easily dominated women. If movies like these are circulated around, so are the ideologies connected to them. This is also extremely harmful because, without this feminist lens, the average moviegoer might not pick up on the problematic situations and roles taking place. All they are viewing is that sexual pleasure, not the corruption of Ana and Christians’ relationship nor the other underlying problematic elements in this film.
Viewing a film like this in theaters was definitely a unique experience, based on the reactions of the audience, though there weren’t as many reactions as I expected. Having had to analyze my experience, I now understand the tricks and trades of the film industry—their advertisements, movie displays, and other popcorn-scented antics. As far as my analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey goes, I feel that this film is a compilation of many terrible relationship happenings, and the fact that the audience is so drawn to it is very concerning. The audience is exposed to poor examples of sexual partners as well as the manipulation that can take place given a situation such as this. Women can identify with Ana and as McCabe noted, identificatory practices can take place, meaning they could feel the need to resemble and imitate Ana. That is a horrendous idea. Women and all genders need to see themselves as equals in relationships like these. This movie is a visual representation of how not to be in a relationship. Both partners need to remain autonomous and confident, and not let some dictating bastard like Christian Grey dominate and change who they are, nor be passive and let changes happen. If I had to give I give Fifty Shades of Grey a rating, I would graciously give it a three out of 10. Mostly because of the soundtrack and because it the story is placed in Washington; I love Washington. In sum, don’t waste your time, don’t waste your money, and stay true to yourselves, ya’ll.