Friday, 3 March 2017

Fifty Shades Darker - On Apple and Vanilla Sex.

I don't know why but I just felt that I should continue my short series of blogs based on the 'Fifty Shade' series.  As you know, I have read the books and I saw the first film, so with some trepidation I went to see the second film a few weeks ago.

'Fifty Shades Darker' continues where the previous film left off and basically sees the relationship between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele resume but without the rules and contracts that have informed his previous relationships.  His predilection for control based relationships with more than a slight hint of sadism connected to them shunted to one side, so that he can develop a meaningful relationship with Ana.  Once again, the film slightly explores Christian Grey's troubled upbringing. As the film opens, we are privy to Christian Grey's nightmare concerning his biological mother as she is seemingly being abused in the distance by a man who comes into his bedroom and catches Christian Grey hiding beneath his bed.

I am not going to give you a full synopsis of the film as it is a fairly faithful adaptation of the second book in the 'Fifty Shades Trilogy'.  But I will highlight some aspects of the film that either intrigued or dissatisfied me.  Let's start with the most obvious point, for a film that supposedly focuses upon the world of S and M and sexual practices in general, there is very little sex in the film.  Now whether you see this as a good or bad thing is largely down to how you feel about cinematic depictions of sex. If the sexual acts are over done, the flow of a film's narrative can be inhibited.  In fact, I can only think of a handful of films where depictions of sexual acts do not disturb the film's narrative and are indeed, integral to the development of character and plot.  'Don't Look Now' is one such film.  As Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie's characters make love, you can see how their relationship has changed following the death of their young daughter.  There is a sense of pathos about their lovemaking.  In 'Fifty Shades Darker', the sex becomes as Ana wishes very 'vanilla'.  Indeed, in one scene, she visually illustrates where she sees their love life going by holding up a tub of Ben and Jerry's Vanilla ice cream.

Within this film, 'Vanilla sex' is pretty much the order of the day.  It's largely a consensual couple making love in the missionary position.  As the film goes on, Ana becomes more experimental and begins to use the equipment in the Red Room as she becomes more interested in the practical application of bondage.  Also the infamous 'silver balls' are inserted by Christian Grey at one point in the narrative.  These I suppose provide stimulation through movement for Ana, although any pleasure she experiences is not always apparent from the acting of Dakota Johnson (or to give her justice from the script and direction).  Something that the book and film both avoid properly exploring is the high level of dependency that can be implicit within sado masochistic relationships.  Within the book and film, one of Christian Grey's previous submissives, Leila Williams pursues Ana and Christian, which leads to an eventual confrontation, in which Christian saves the day.  This is an element of both the film and book that could have been better developed.  Although, maybe I am trying too hard to squeeze some kind of psychosexual analysis out of a series that is more concerned with only slightly pulling back the curtains on a world that the author wishes us to see but not fully understand?  E.L. James' interest is in the characters of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, the other characters do not feel as developed.

My most fundamental issue with this film is the product placement.  Apple once again dominates and also as suggested earlier, Ben and Jerry ice cream.  I long for the day when a character doesn't pull out a laptop which lights up the Apple logo.  It makes me want to understand more concerning how corporate companies are involved in the production of these films, do they invest money or simply offer their goods, if they are promised that their products will be featured prominently throughout the running time of a film?

To close, the film as a whole feels quite wholesome, which may be the harshest thing I can say about it.  If anything, the sexual acts portrayed in this film are slightly more restrained than in the previous film.  What intrigues me is the fact that this film was directed by James Foley with some involvement from E.L. James.  I wonder how different the film may have been if directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, the director of the first film?  Although, ultimately, the source material determines how the narrative progresses.  I respect that the novels were written in the first place but just wish that the author had focused more on the BDSM world, which seemed to loosely inspire them.  Sex may sell books but very few books can successfully offer an erotic world that empowers both women and men or indeed, explore sexuality in its myriad forms.

                                                                                        Barry Watt - 3rd March 2017.  


The 'Fifty Shades Trilogy' consists of 'Fifty Shades of Grey', 'Fifty Shades Darker' and 'Fifty Shades Freed'.  They are written by E.L. James and they are published by Arrow.

'Don't Look Now' is based on the short story by Daphne du Maurier and the film was released in 1973 and is available on DVD from Optimum Home Entertainment.  It's still one of the most intelligent films about the bereavement process, I have yet to see.

'Ben and Jerry's' are an ice cream company that make pretty good ice cream:

Apple (not to be confused with the other Apple company with connections to the band, The Beatles) are a major corporation that make electrical goods that everyone seems to want.  Their website is below:


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