I went to see 'Fifty Shades of Grey' yesterday at the Barbican and enjoyed reading the customary BBFC's certificate prior to the onset of the film, promising 'Strong Sex'. Well, rest assured that one of those two words is oddly lacking from the film.
I read the 'Fifty Shades Trilogy' and I even blogged about the books. In terms of the content, I felt the books offered diminishing returns as they continued. The first book was the only one that had some promise and even had the potential to open up new lines of enquiry into different sexual practises that had previously not been explored openly in the mainstream culture. Well, this film somewhat neuters the possibility for sexual exploration rather than nurturing such desires.
Let's cut straight to the chase... The protagonists are filmed sans their respective penis and vagina during scenes of fairly explicit sexual practice. Now this somewhat works against the original novel. Also more worryingly, it also fails to explore the importance of safe sex. At only one point in the film (from what I noted) did Christian Grey tear at the sheaf of a condom. Now bearing in mind that the guy has had at least fifteen previous partners (well, that's what he tells Anastasia) and is basically very obsessive concerning control and order, so from the logic of the film narrative that makes his character unrealistic. He would not want to be the bearer of sexually transmitted infections. Yes, in his own words he is 'fifty shades of fucked up', but his issues are far deeper and he certainly would not want to spend a day in a sexual health clinic with his partner, both with their fingers crossed that neither of them were infected.
The film as a whole is a fairly faithful adaptation of the first novel, discounting the representations of the sexual encounters, which I guess accounts for the furore concerning the apparent depiction of violence towards women and how at some intrinsic level, the film propagates domestic violence. Okay, let's break down those points... Christian Grey has a penchant for sado-masochism. He is a self confessed dominant and is seeking a submissive. In the past, he was abused by a woman at the age of fifteen and spent so many years as her submissive. He has subsequently become a dominant, possibly to regain the sense of control to his life (his childhood was troubled). Within sado-masochistic relationships that work the key concepts of intent and consent are always evident. Hence, the use of safety words to prevent the sexual acts that one or other of the participants finds disagreeable or extreme (in this film, the word 'yellow' is the suggested word Christian offers to Ana so that she can make him aware that she does not like certain acts. When she says 'red' he will stop anything that he is doing). Now working within the logic of a consensual relationship, where both parties are aware of the sexual acts that they are performing and are going to perform, this does not constitute abuse of either party, providing they are both in agreement. The assumption that is being jumped at by many people who have neither read the books, seen the film or who have failed to explore sado-masochism is the fact that Anastasia is a victim. As the film progresses and the series of books, it becomes apparent that she is in no way a victim. She understandably is not always aware of what is happening or going to happen but Christian effectively explains to her the nature of the relationship he wishes to have with her. The idea of the contract is appalling but from the perspective of his character with his heavy duty psycho sexual issues and his desperate need to maintain control, it makes sense. Having seen the film, I can categorically state that I do not feel that this film promotes domestic violence. Sado-masochism and domestic violence are two different things. The first involves consent, the second, uncontrolled abuse. If you like, order and chaos respectively.
My objections with the film concern the above lack of sexual realism and also the product placement. You leave the film with images of an LG phone on your mind and the Apple logo, which is proudly emblazoned on Christian's laptop and the laptop he buys for Anastasia. It's odd how these are the only brands that I remembered being pushed in the film. It's not a brilliant film but then the books are also not brilliantly constructed. If you want to see more intelligent films about adult relationships, you could do worse than see the films, '9 Songs', 'Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 and 2' and 'Shame'. As it stands, this is a date film for people who like their sex without emotion and their characters with little function.
'Fifty Shades of Grey' is out now in most cinemas and is rated 18.
The 'Fifty Shades Trilogy' were written by E.L. James. Currently published by Arrow Books.
The BBFC (The British Board of Film Classification) are responsible for classifying all of the films we see in the cinema and other associated medias such as DVDs.
'9 Songs' is directed by Michael Winterbottom and is available on DVD.
'Nymphomaniac Volumes 1 and 2' were both directed by Lars Von Trier and are available on DVD.
'Shame' is directed by Steve McQueen and is available on DVD.
Apple and LG are both well known brands and really don't need any more publicity.
Barry Watt - 16th February 2015.