Fifty Shades of Grey Review - Grey -- Not BLACK AND BLUE!

The most fantastic moment in the film is when Anastasia Steele, hurrying to interview tycoon Christian Grey for a student newspaper, finds a parking space smack in front of his high-rise office building. (Use of the word "smack" is deliberate.)


I had not intended to see this R-rated film, but Irv wanted to see American Sniper, and I vastly prefer sex to violence. So, for the first time in our own romantic history, Irv and I parted at the theater entrance.


The film was far better than expected -- especially following negative reviews and caveats from psychiatrists. One warned that men will become abusers as women become willingly victimized. Perhaps this has some validity in a world where 12-year olds murder each other because they believe that a fictional character, Slim Man, demands it, but I don't believe that those who enjoyed book and film, are necessarily warped. There have always been those who confuse fiction with reality. I had a relative who wouldn't name his daughter Erica because of the behavior of fictional Erica Kane on "All My Children!"


This movie, based on the trilogy by E.L. James, offers Fantasy with a capital F, Romance with a capital R and not Porn with a capital P. The characters are straight out of historical fiction, the stuff of fairy tales. For Christian (Jamie Dorman), think of classic, handsome, enigmatic males: Rochester in Jane Eyre, Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. For Ana (Dakota Johnson), consider her virginity (requisite) and think of Cinderella (equally poor) and Sleeping Beauty (equally unconscious, waiting to be awakened by a prince).


Christian is handsome and fabulously wealthy. Ana is gorgeous and has never before been in love. This is not anyone's reality. Titles of two recent articles recognize the literary link: "Is Christian Grey Our New Mr. Darcy?" and "Christian Gray, You're No Mr. Darcy" While Rochester and Darcy weren't sadists, both certainly had cruel streaks which were later explained (and perhaps justified) in their novels.


            Several plot threads ameliorate the cruelty here:


            1. Dominant Christian is flawed. We will delve into his personal psychological history to learn what has led him to become a control freak that can only enjoy a relationship of bondage and pain. (We may ultimately see Ana as his cure -- if the film sequel gets as far as the third book).

            2. Submissive, innocent Ana is willing -- told explicitly what lies ahead. While a case could be made for calling the film sexist, one could also argue that it is empowering because Ana makes her choices freely. Christian even hands her a 7-page contract where she can refuse certain acts and say specific safe words ("yellow" and "red") to stop the action. Interestingly, I once attended a seminar where a panel speculated on possible safe words ("Geronimo?" "Ticonderoga?").  I recall raising my hand and asking why the word "stop" wouldn't suffice.

            3. The sex is consensual and gradually moves from straight to sadistic carrying viewer, as well as heroine, along from the real to the surreal.           

            4. Nothing ugly is filmed. No bruises. No whiplash marks. No blisters. No blood. Sanitized scenes in the "Red Room of Pain" are highly romanticized. Ana only expresses real dismay once -- which turns the plot.


Here's a couple who -- against their better judgments -- will eventually fall in love. The course of true love can never run smoothly. There must be conflict, barriers to overcome. Here, it is the difference in their sexual expectations and desires. Existence of obstacles is the stuff of all romance. In the book, I began skipping redundant sex scenes to watch each of them move towards the center, becoming truer to their ironic names, raising such questions as,  "Will Christian actually become more Christian? And will this girl named Steele become less malleable?" As in far better books, the characters should change.


This film ends with a cliffhanger. Lovers separate as elevator doors close. What will happen next? The elderly couple sitting next to me expressed dismay until I assured them that two more films would follow and continue the story.


Irv plans to join me, next time. . . .


Photos:  50 Shades of Grey website

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