Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

"Are you gay?"

Before I say anything else, I should praise the way this film is shot by Sam Taylor-Wood. I'm not sure about the washed-out colours ("grey", yes, very clever), but she has shot the film with a lot of style and used some rather neat narrative tricks, particularly the montage illustrating the contract between Ana and Grey; large pieces of text are difficult to get across well onscreen, but Taylor-Wood delivers here. She does as good a job with the source material as can be done. The script also adapts the novel well.

However, it's still based on the novel by E.L. James and it's intrinsic virtues and flaws. The novel does not pretend to be literary fiction, but it is rather well-written, with good prose, engaging characters and a fast and dramatic plot. It may not be very deep, but there's nothing wrong with that. It would have been better if James had employed a proper proofreader instead of letting her husband do it, but it isn't a bad novel. Except in its message. And the film cannot help but follow suit.

The main problem I have with both book and film is Christian Grey. I dislike him as a character, I would intensely dislike him as a person if he was real, and I find him a somewhat disturbing subject for female desire. He's a bully, a control freak, a stalker, and he and Ana have an abusive relationship. There. I've said it.

And none of this, I hasten to add, is in any way to do with BDSM. I have issues with how the media (and this is a prime suspect) treats BDSM as being about dominant males and submissive females whereas, in reality, it's just as likely to be the other way round. Indeed, BDSM has its origins in gay culture and remains something of a gay-heavy subculture. But BDSM itself is a perfectly healthy thing, done safely and consensually. 

The problem with Christian isn't that he's a dominant, and there isn't a single sex scene in the film which wouldn't be perfectly ok in a different context, but that he's a weird, damaged control freak who does what he does out of a desire to hurt women as revenge for his mother's failings- pretty basic misogyny. There are lots of alarm bells. For a start, he wants to dominate a woman who isn't into the lifestyle when he meets her, which is in itself deeply dodgy. He's trying to psychologically manipulate her into submitting to him when she has no prior desire to do so. That's deeply creepy and I'm of the opinion that Ana is rushed and pressured into "consenting". That's more than a bit rapey.

The book, and the film by extension, could do a great deal of harm, firstly in propagating misleading ideas about BDSM and, most worryingly, encouraging naive women in the audience to enter into abusive relationships masquerading as such.

BDSM aside, it's not exactly feminist to present a rich man as a wish fulfilment figure, as though the place of a woman is to marry a man who can look after her and just be an ornament.

All that said, Jamie Dornan does an excellently nuanced job of playing the character. He does the best with an impossible job, and impresses. And that's something that can be said of the film as a whole: it does a good job of adapting material which is deeply dodgy in what it is saying.

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