What did you think of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie, Tiger?
I will tell you, audience.
Oh and also if you're looking for a thoughtful balanced social justice-y thing like I usually try to provide, this...is not that thing. You have been warned.
First, the movie is a thousand times better than the book because they had the ability to cut away great swathes of really shitty writing. So all the holy craps and all the shit about the inner goddess and so forth are gone, save a single "holy cow" shout out which was rather charming. All the major scenes are there--the bit with Jose, the dinner with Christian's parents, Ana's graduation, the interview--without all the filler. Also just in case you were wondering, the infamous tampon removal scene does not make an appearance. I know we're all sad about that, huh?
However, consent is portrayed very well. I can only imagine that this has been added to the movie, since from what I hear the book is terrible on this point. (whenever she tells Christian no he respects it, for one thing).
The first big question:
Is it abusive?
The short answer is that overall it is not outright abusive but it is highly questionable. Both of the major players have poor boundaries and in some instances, no boundaries at all. But a curious thing happened to me about halfway through; I started to empathize with Christian over Ana. This is because Christian has some understandable motivations. He was raped as a child (I'm sorry, but a much older woman getting sexually involved with a fifteen year old boy is rape), repeatedly molested by a woman Ana callously refers to as "Mrs Robinson."
The reason I started using gifs with my Anita reviews is that there were so many things I came across that were literally so awful I had no words to describe my reactions. A picture is worth a million words, right? Suffice to say I do not find Ana's attitude about Christian's 'dominant' amusing, and her referring to this woman as a child abuser about three fourths in does nothing to erase her casual attitude towards the situation.
Ana also has almost no personality. She is as bland as Bella Swan. (more about the Twilight connections later)
Anyway, back to my analysis of Christian. He is obviously emotionally unavailable and doesn't have much personality, or rather he doesn't let people see anything about him that might be considered characterizing. He tries to make up for this by essentially love bombing (more like money/attention bombing, since Christian doesn't do love) Ana, taking her on fancy plane rides, buying her clothes and cars, and otherwise overwhelming her with luxury. I enjoyed the way the movie underscored the fact that these things can't make up for emotional availability. Christian, while he is not in my view abusive, is a questionable person. He and Ana have a big power differential between them, and he clearly thinks that he ought to be able to purchase her or win her over the way he might do with a fine antique or a client at work.
1). Shows up at places she is without being invited. I especially dislike when he comes to her job at a hardware store and buys a bunch of bondage items. He's involving her in his fantasies without her consent and it's weird.
2). Saves her from an assault only to wisk her away himself. To his credit he didn't take advantage of her drunkenness.
3). A TON of mixed signals about how he doesn't do love, yet he's constantly treating her like a lover even from the beginning and then acts surprised that she's confused.
4). Parts of his BDSM contract are ridiculous. Controlling what she eats? I mean I'm not saying that this is inappropriate in and of itself. Lots of people live in 24/7 scenarios that are this restrictive. But to start with? (I have to say though the scene where they discuss the contract and Ana's limits is really good)
5). He does like ZERO aftercare. You can't just spank the woman and then leave her there, man! Shit's not cool!
6). He strikes her (on the ass) out of anger at one point. NO. Do not do this. Punishment is not the same as hitting someone because you're angry. Punishment is part of BDSM for many, many people. Hitting someone because you're pissed off and out of control is abuse.
But as much as the abuse angle has been discussed, I don't see that in the movie to an overwhelming degree. What really enrages me is how BDSM is portrayed.
Look, I like edge play. This would be basically anything you might need to sign a waiver for. Knives, needles, suspensions, hard whippings, whatever. When it comes to writing well, I like to write the same thing. Yesterday I wrote a scene that included the sentence "roll over, pretty whore. I want to see that come filled asshole for myself."
Yeah so thing one, the BDSM in this movie is really fucking tame. But it is hot! Somehow they managed to achieve almost Secretary level greatness in some areas. And here's the weirdest thing, I liked this movie. What I HATED is how Christian's totally run of the mill BDSM tastes have to mean that he's an abused emotionally constipated pervert. He spends almost the whole movie dicking around with feathers and soft rope and ice cubes (which I consider to be quite vanilla) which is totally fine, but it's certainly not 120 Days of Sodom.
So he's easing her in to the lifestyle as he should, but Ana can't deal with that. And here's the thing. Yes, she's the submissive, but dominants have boundaries and hard limits too. People have this idea that BDSM is about a long suffering submissive just taking the big bad dominant's abuse, but that's very much not the case. Both parties have responsibilities and power and things they love and hate. Christian is very clear with her that he doesn't like to be touched, that he doesn't want to do romance, and that he doesn't want to sleep next to her. She makes the classic mistake of agreeing to things that she ultimately doesn't want because she has stars in her eyes over how handsome and rich he is. When she realizes that his boundaries are real, she freaks out. She's constantly pressing him to let her touch him, to talk to her, to date her, to do all the things he said he didn't want to do. And yet, this is okay because Ana is the one doing it? If Christian were acting the way she does in this movie, people would be shitting on him from here to next week for not respecting what she wants.
In short: this shit is not okay. It's not okay just because Ana is the submissive, or because Ana is a woman, or because Christian obviously needs help. Forcing him won't heal or help his wounds. It's also not responsible BDSM. It's good that she states outright that she eventually wants more emotional connection. It's not good to whine about it, to pressure him, to withhold from him in order to get him to do what she wants. They're both making serious mistakes here. On Christian's side of things he ought to realize that it's really hard to consistently practice power exchange with someone without developing feelings. Fine, they're flawed people and that's realistic enough, but at least when she says no it stops him in his tracks. At least he doesn't constantly keep trying to do something to her that she doesn't want (she constantly tries to touch him in ways he expressly does not want). At least he doesn't ask her intrusive repeated questions about the scars on her body and where they came from and whether his adoptive family really loved him.
Then the part that made me hate Ana with a fiery passion.
After all of this pushing, after two hours of the two of them clearly being terrible for each other, she asks Christian to really let loose on her in the red room of pain. He asks her repeatedly if she's sure. He makes sure she knows her safe words. He tells her what he's going to do with her before he does it.
And what is all this build up about? He hits her hard with a belt six times and this is enough for her to treat him like he just raped her. So for this entire fucking movie she's been begging for him to show his feelings, his wants, his desires. She's begged and pleaded and manipulated. They did a really good job of showing her as having power over him (given the old saw about how subs have all the power), but now unfortunately it makes her look terrible. She consents to the entire thing. She never once uses her safeword or communicates that she doesn't like what's happening. Yes, she cries but that's a normal part of a BDSM scene for a lot of people. He makes her count the blows, which she does. Only to have her completely and utterly reject him afterwards because he's a bad person. BECAUSE ONLY BAD PEOPLE LIKE BDSM. She demands to know why he likes this in the first place and why he wants to do this to her. MAYBE BECAUSE HE JUST DOES? You DO NOT have to have an abuse history to be in to BDSM. Plenty of people do, and a fair amount of those use BDSM for therapeutic purposes related to their abuse, but is it a requirement? NO. And that is what disgusts me the most about this movie. I'm clearly supposed to empathize with Ana, because she's 'normal.' She wants hearts and flowers and dates and I am supposed to root for her because that's what normal sweet good girls want.
Fuck this movie, fuck the book, fuck the idea that you have to be abused and/or an abuser to be in to BDSM. Fuck Ana and her boundary crossing manipulative bullshit.
P.S. it's a beautiful movie. The sets are breath taking. The BDSM scenes are gorgeous. Eye candy. They go a little overboard with everything literally being a shade of grey though.
P.P.S. How does EL James get away with this massive obvious Twilight rip off? Some lines and scenes are lifted whole cloth from Twilight.