In the interest of complete transparency I want to get a few things out of the way before jumping right into this. First and foremost, I had not read any of the books going in. That being said, I was very aware of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon and its already prominent cultural impact. I had seen and read many opinion pieces on both the book and the movie (including Lisa Wilkinson’s fantastic review on The Today Show). Some people will argue that having consumed so much negative content before going into the movie that my views and opinions would be skewed and influenced, and that I was already biased. This is not the case. There have been many instances of me seeing a poorly rated flick and absolutely loving it (Wild Wild West comes to mind – but seriously how can you hate that movie it has GIANT STEAMPUNK SPIDERS IN IT). The point of this is that I went into Fifty Shades of Grey with an open mind. Were my expectations high? No. Were my expectations exceeded? Absolutely not.
Fifty Shades tells the story of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a young, innocent and completely virginal English literature student and her ‘relationship’ with billionaire philanthropist and professional arsehole Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) – who just happens to be into some pretty nasty shit. Three spoonful’s of stalking and a dash of emotional manipulation later, Anastasia finds herself being presented with dominant Christian’s “I don’t do romance” relationship contract and the proposal of becoming his submissive. Sound appealing yet? If you were hoping for some kind of romance driven narrative where Christian and Anastasia fall desperately in love then unfortunately you have come to the wrong place. From that point on the movie quickly breaks down into Fifty Shades of The Unhealthiest BDSM Relationship and Dakota Johnson’s Naked Body with the occasional break away for the mole-of-a-man Christian Grey to prove how much of a psycho he is. And herein is where the main issue with this movie lies, as Fifty Shades strays dangerously close to supporting Christian’s actions by completely normalising them.
Sex aside, Christian Grey is a classic abuser and has all the traits to go with it: obsessive, narcissistic, disconnected, hypersensitive, jealous, manipulative and controlling to name just a few. He is a master Machiavellian, using both physical and emotional manipulation throughout the movie to his advantage and his jealously borders on paranoia. Throughout the story Christian also shows stalker behaviour, often turning up unexpectedly because he was “in the area” or breaking into her house to ‘surprise’ her, which results in him completely fitting the profile of a typical serial killer. This begs the question: what’s behind those other locked doors Mr Hannib – excuse me – Grey?
Throughout the movie the director (Sam Taylor-Johnson) uses lines from the source material to comedic effect and by doing this attempts to present itself as an awkward romantic comedy, with the soundtrack and suggestive cinematography often making light of a situation by playing an upbeat song or sexualising a coffee cup or door handle by zooming in on it as the protagonists say something particularly provocative. This type of immature filmmaking does not fit the somber storyline and often causes the viewer to disconnect the abuse as part of the punch line, which adds to the normalisation of this type of unhealthy behaviour. This is especially concerning knowing how many people will see it and even more concerning when you think that countries like France have given the movie a ‘12’ rating.
Fifty Shades of Grey is not just one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, but potentially one of the most damaging. By not addressing the danger of abusive and clearly unhealthy BDSM relationships and partners who use physical and emotional manipulation to their advantage the movie wanders dangerously close to supporting them. The reckless and often clumsy direction causes the actions of Christian Grey to seem ordinary, with Anastasia’s abuse seeming totally commonplace. This is not only irresponsible, but also entirely dangerous. If you are looking for something to do with your loved one this Valentines Day, don’t waste your money on Fifty Shades: you’d be better off spending $30 on chocolate and watching a Home and Away repeat.
Sam Spettigue – follow Sam on Twitter at @ninjaspag.