In general, I hesitate to weigh in on these kinds of issues. However, since I am a writer, a student of human behavior, and a lover of cinema, I feel like I need to speak up about Fifty Shades of Grey, the first film in what I assume will be a film trilogy based on the books by E.L. James.
Here is the mandatory disclosure:
I have not read the books, but my sister has, and she has described them in detail to me. This has provided me with a strong context for the story, but in no way gives me the authority to evaluate James' writing style, her knowledge of BDSM protocols, or nuances of character behavior.
However, I did indeed see the film on Valentine's Day with my mom and sister, and days later, we are still talking about it. We haven't talked this much about a movie since The Matrix. There is a huge cultural conversation around this movie, and I have a few things to add. Points that I believe will allow us to look at the story and characters from a different perspective.
I loved the movie, haven't read the book, probably won't read the book.
The movie is the only thing I am talking about in this blog post. I love writing, and I do enjoy a good story, but I'm a full time student , and I'm trying to finish a novel. Ain't nobody got time to read 800 pages of Twilight fan fiction.
Remember, this plot and the characters are based entirely upon characters from a teen novel that many parents will still not let their children read. It BLOWS MY MIND that people are talking about young girls reading the Fifty Shades series or seeing the movie. This is adult material. I'm sure E.L. James never intended for readers under the age of 18 to read the book.
If you are worried about young girls idealizing Christian Grey and his contracts as the ideal relationship, I want to know exactly how young you think these readers/viewers are--ten? Could we all agree that the youngest person that should read the books or see this movie is eighteen? And if that is the case, do we really think these young women are inept enough to see a portrayal of abuse, think it's love, and seek after a man who will treat them likewise?
Is Christian Grey a sadistic, manipulative abuser, or a modern Byronic Hero?
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to turn our attention back to the Gothic fiction of the 19th century. Many of these novels, especially those of the Bronte sisters, included characters that were some of the most infuriating, manipulative love interests ever written. In researching the story lines of these books, I came across a name for this character trope--the Byronic Hero. This character is a man who is emotionally wounded, keeps very dark secrets, is extremely moody and often verbally abusive. He lies to and manipulates his love interest, and guess what? SHE KEEPS COMING BACK FOR MORE!
My sister LOVES watching the movie versions of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, whereas I can't take it without scoffing and groaning and heckling the female character in many of the same ways critics of Shades have done to Anastasia.
"He's no good for you, and he treats you like CRAP! Why are you with him?!"
Seriously, I have abhorred the Byronic Hero so badly, that I was not able to get through any of the aforementioned movies until this past year. In addition, my mother and sister had to explain it to me. Why, oh, WHY do women glorify this bullshit and read it several times a year? How is this romantic?
Christian Grey is a caricature of the wounded masculine.
It may not be "right" or "healthy," but I am coming to understand, there is a certain complicated spot in the female psyche that want to heal a wounded man, and there are wounded men who want to be healed. Gothic literature creates tropes of these desires and even provides self-parody of these tropes. Look carefully, and you'll find the tongue-in-cheek.
Of course no self-respecting woman would stay with such a man. No woman SHOULD stay with a man who cannot control his passions or rage. Period. If you are being abused, raped or manipulated, get out now--you deserve better. There are better men out there. Don't hesitate to leave.
***Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233
The Byronic Hero is not meant to represent an abuser. He is a caricature of the wounded masculine--the rage and frustration many average men hold inside. It is an expression of their need to be vulnerable contrasted with the personal pressure they feel to be in control, in charge, respected and, well, manly.
These are the men who had such a profoundly rough start in life that they have virtually no connection to the feminine, but also a desperate need for it.
The movie portrayal of Christian Grey by actor Jamie Dornan is surprisingly desperate and needy. The performance was amazing. Not once while watching the film did I ever see that he was in control. Not once--Anastasia has him wrapped completely around her little finger the whole time, and though she is soft spoken and little scared, I think she knows it.
Christian admits it himself, "I'm fifty shades of f***ed up."
I don't see how he could be less confusing or more open...just about the furthest from manipulative you can get.
Really watch the movie, and if you disagree, Facebook me with your rebuttal.
The whole "BDSM Thing"
I can't say I'm an authority on the psychology of BDSM and why those who do it do it. However, if what I understand is correct, those who engage in BDSM are some of the most respectful and communicative when it comes to sex and relationships. Sure, Christian had many secrets from Anastasia, but he was never secretive about exactly what she would be getting herself into by being with him. At every point in the unfolding of their relationship, he was explicit in exactly what she could expect.
I ask you, how many women would appreciate a man who could do that? Most guys aren't present enough to do that. Most guys can't peel themselves away from the XBox long enough for a "hey, sweetie, how 'ya doin'?"
Without exception, every single encounter they had in the film, be it a date or sex, was preceded by an invitation and a clear chance for Anastasia to say "no." Let me repeat that--she was of age and coerced into exactly nothing. Even after she had consented, when she said "no," Christian obeyed--he didn't even hint at violating her boundary. In this movie, they used protection (condoms), emphasized 'safe words,' and "no" meant "no." I see nothing wrong here... the only thing I see in folks who dislike the hitting and dominance is a (common) misunderstanding of BDSM.
As for those who try to say this story is abhorrent because "well, the actor-guy and his wife are creeped out by Christian Grey, so..."
No. First of all, Jamie Dornan has every personal right not to like BDSM, and yet take on an acting role of someone who does. It's like saying homosexuality is wrong because Heath Ledger would never have sex with a man in his personal sex life. Give me a break. I believe this role will rocket him to stardom not just for the popularity of the franchise, but be cause he respected the character, fully showed up for the role and did a great job.
As for the chemistry of the actors, all I gotta say is, it's screaming Oscar--because if they hated each other and couldn't stand what they were doing, they definitely fooled me.
That's really all I want to say about Fifty Shades of Grey. I loved the movie, and I think it's an interesting watch. I would recommend it to adults with the inclination who are trying to decide whether or not they should. It didn't change my whole world view or shock me at all (I've seen documentaries more explicit) but the script and performances moved me and spoke to parts of my own relationships that have been, at times, exquisitely painful.
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