Fifty Shades of Grey

Posted on February 12, 2015 at 5:50 pm

The Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy by E.L. James became an international blockbuster best-seller because it satisfies the deepest, most passionate, most secret longing of the female spirit. It has nothing to do with being tied up or spanked, but it is about domination.

I am not referring to the domination in the bedroom — or the red room of pain. I am referring to the fantasy of having a bad boy love you so much he turns into a pliable good boy. As a friend of mine once put it, “A lot of women dream of marrying Han Solo, and then spend the rest of their lives trying to turn him into Luke Skywalker.” From “Beauty and the Beast” to “Jane Eyre,””Wuthering Heights,” “Gigi,” “Jerry Maguire,” and “Pride and Prejudice,” the fantasy is of the female beauty and purity of spirit that are strong enough to tame a cold-hearted man (whose cold heart is of course the result of being lonely, misunderstood, and never having met the right woman, not in any way because he is a psychopath, a sociopath, or just a terrible person).

Beauty and purity are here in the person of the lovely and virginal Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), an English lit major about to graduate from college. The role of The Beast is taken by uber-taker Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), handsome, wealthy, successful, and equally adept at piloting a helicopter and playing classical piano. Ana arrives at Christian’s office with a list of questions from her roommate, who was scheduled to interview him (for an allotted ten minutes) but who is home with a bad cold. Though she trips over the doorway and forgot to bring anything to take notes with, Christian, a self-described superior judge of people, immediately and accurately spots some, well, steel in Ana. It is not her weakness that attracts him; it is her strength. “I Put a Spell on You” we hear sung over the opening moments, “because you’re mine.”

Who is the “I?”


After one “vanilla” sexual encounter and a signed non-disclosure agreement, Christian shows Ana his special chamber stocked with every possible kind of whip, riding crop, handcuff set, and binding material, explaining, “I do this to women, with women, who want it.” He offers her a detailed contract spelling out the duties and restrictions expected of a submissive. Ana shows that, sexual inexperience aside, she and Christian have a lot in common. Their highly charged but playful “negotiation” in an office conference room is more erotic than the many sex scenes.

Ah, the sex scenes. Very Skinemax, very perfume commercial, not very non-vanilla, not, to my mind anyway, very exciting. Dornan never seems particularly passionate or tortured. Even the big whipping scene (six lashes, discreetly portrayed with no images of the whip hitting the skin or any marks left) comes across like another item to be crossed off a busy executive’s to-do list. For most of the movie, the porn-iest parts are the loving depictions of the trappings of wealth. Christian has a spare but luxurious office, staffed with women built like human whippets, all with tight blonde ballerina buns and impeccably tailored grey suits. His cars, his apartment, it’s all like the pages from a glossy shelter magazine. There’s a lot more kink in any given episode of Dan Savage’s podcasts, and more intensity, too.

Dornan has some appeal but never makes Christian seem dangerous. Johnson is the movie’s greatest asset. For a role that requires a lot of lip-biting, she has the two most important qualifications — a lovely lip and the ability to make biting it look natural. She has a natural warmth, intelligence, and humor that come across on screen and go a long way toward making the movie less silly than it could have been.

Parents should know that this movie includes very frank and explicit sexual references and situations including domination, bondage, and infliction of pain, nudity, drinking and drunkenness, and very strong language.

Family discussion: What made Ana different from Christian’s previous girlfriends? What do their names tell us about the characters? How can giving up control feel freeing?

If you like this, try: “9 1/2 Weeks” and the books by E.L. James

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Based on a book Drama Romance

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