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The Unremarkable Paradox of Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey is an exceptionally bad movie, and it’s for many reasons too. We’ve a leading man lacking in charm; a black hole of chemistry between the star couple; terrible dialogue; overt metaphors; clichéd characters. And of course, an utter lack of emotion, meaning, or intrigue.

There are two notable things that stand out. However, both prevailing issues are in fact paradoxical, and cannot both really be true at the same time. Then again, Christian Grey and his creators don’t have a problem with that, so maybe I shouldn’t either.

After all, a man who talks of consent when it comes to his sexual exploits is the same man who undresses a drunken girl and sleeps next to her. A man who develops a contract to ensure full disclosure and understanding is the same who pops up at Anastasia’s house (and her place or work, and across the country visiting her mom). Most troubling is that he is a man who professes certain sexual tastes and openness only to imply that such acts are abnormal.

He goes to on talk of so-called ‘normal’ relationships being those in which he cannot take part. When it comes to sexual attraction, interests, and identity, ‘normal’ of course is that awful, hellacious word that so casually asserts certain relationships and proclivities are right and certain ones are inherently wrong. According to Christian, there is something wrong with him for wanting what he wants.

Well, no, there isn’t. What’s wrong with him is that he doesn’t exist. Anastasia does. She is someone young and curious, someone not yet sure of her sexual interests. She isn’t averse, but she simultaneously won’t give up her freedom and certainly won’t be judged for her decisions. She may not know all that she wants (and is rather judgmental at times), but she is also ready to know what she doesn’t want.

Christian though, isn’t real. This is not a case of a fictional character being of two minds, torn, hypocritical, or plagued. No, a person who talks of consent would not do the things to Anastasia that he does. A person that embraces his or her sexual side to such a dedicated, open, extent, who was more or less taught as a young man about such a culture, wouldn’t have the same ineptitude and discomfort talking about it with someone with whom he has become so intimate.

Of course, were this an accurate representation of BDSM culture, the story would be different. It’s not in the least bit accurate.

It’s so hypocritical that it’s like the scene from Looper where Joseph Gordon Levitt questions Bruce Willis about time travel, and Willis basically just says I don’ want to talk about it and don’t worry. When you think about it too much, the whole story gets confusing and ultimately won’t make a lick of sense. Same with Christian Grey.

Fifty Shades also evokes, yes, American Sniper, with respect to the infamous robot baby scene. Every time Christian opens his mouth you’re reminded that what you’re watching isn’t only a movie, but that it’s not even closely representing that which it is trying to represent.

But American Sniper, without politics and fact-checking, can still be (and is often) an entertaining movie. That’s what’s films are for, in one way or another. That film and others come under scrutiny for being misleading or selective. Grey absolutely fits that category of deception, but if others films can be compartmentalized, so should this one, right?

However, in mainstream American cinema, we don’t have films like Grey. There are dramatic, fascinating depictions of such relationships in films from around the world (the forthcoming Belgian movie The Duke of Burgundy is a great example), but not in America. Movies like American Sniper for example might reinforce hard-held beliefs. Fifty Shades is more an introduction, not a validation, which is undoubtedly the biggest concern about the film from the outset. For many it would seem this is their first foray into such a world, and the actions and reactions of Christian and Ana do it a great disservice.


Thankfully, Grey wouldn’t trick the most casual of observers into thinking it was anything serious. As our culture has dumbly violent action films, dumbly gory horror films, dumbly gratuitous comedies, now so too do we have dumbly, vaguely sensual curious romances.

Such action, horror, and comedic films can do well because people want those escapes; they’d rather not think but instead embrace whatever predictable excess is certain to come. So surely there can be those among us who want to see the debauchery and deviations of Fifty Shades like any other film not ingrained in reality. We cannot judge movies based on what the least among us take away from it.

But because Fifty Shades is so bad, so spectacularly unspectacular, that which I just spent the last few hundred words dissecting doesn’t really matter.

That’s the second problem with this film. It’s a triumph of the middling, with two leads having no connection to make it sexy, a script that isn’t absurd enough to be laughably funny, and a look and feel that isn’t captivating enough to stay fascinated. Whatever fledging praise or high marks its given would seem to be due to either the anticipation leading up to the viewing experience or whatever anticipation floats into someone’s mind about what they may want undertake after the film.

That is, chances are those who like the film are either riding a wave of excitement from the book and pining for some excitement to come.

It’s a poorly-executed tepid piece of filmmaking. It nonsensically exists in its own world while misinterpreting and misinforming sexual practices in the real world. It is, ultimately, utterly unremarkable.

Christian Grey doesn’t really exist. Nor do most romantic characters for that matter, so it’s hard to really get upset about the film because of that. Now, that Fifty Shades isn’t a particularly exciting, inventive, erotic, or thrilling movie – that’s a reason to be annoyed.

Anthony Marcusa

A pop-culture consumer, Anthony seeks out what is important in entertainment and mocks what is not. Inspired by history, Anthony writes with the hope that someone, somewhere, might be affected.