Movie Review: More Than Skin Deep With “Fifty Shades Freed”

“...don’t forget that the movie is only a fantasy and that real love is the man sitting next to you trying not to roll his eyes too loudly at the ridiculous antics of Mr. and Mrs. Grey.”


 

Anastasia and Christian get married, but Jack Hyde continues to threaten their relationship.

When the popularity of the erotic novel trilogy written by E. L. James first went viral, I thought, why not? But I couldn’t stomach the elementary dialogue and silver platter plot long enough to be enticed to even skip to the juicy parts, so I jumped off of the bandwagon with a contemptuous harumph.

Then the movies came out. And I admit I was curious. I tried the first one and again, I couldn’t contain my disgust at the ridiculousness. I didn’t see any more after that and my opinion was nearly religious with vehemence, even if the reasons for my opinion had more to do with syntax than sin.

But I have something to confess about watching this latest film:

  1. I may have had fun.
  2. I may have enjoyed the titillation.
  3. And I may have had a slight change of heart, even though I think the writing as a whole is still pretty asinine.

I also think there might be something more behind this trilogy and its wild success that is worth discussing despite its obvious lack of cleverness. But first, let’s talk about the film.

Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), the lip-biting, innocent, but playful submissive is bound in matrimony to Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), the dom, who has an intense need to be in control, never let down his guard, and never cry. They’re both beautiful (of course) and now they’re both rich (conveniently perfect) as they set off on this adventure of marriage (you know that thing where we talk, we listen, we work things out?).

But it’s super dumb.

They obviously haven’t talked much. First, she seems to have no clue about the extent of his finances. (she doesn’t know that he owns a private jet.) Plus, he buys a house without telling her or asking her. (just assumes she’ll love it compared to the hovel he rescued her from.) Then she asks him if he wants to have children after they’re married!! (This is clearly a set-up for the big conflict, but idiotic).

The sexy scenes are more playful than erotic, but I found that more congruent with the simplistic plot rather than trying to pull off the complexities of a Sharon Stone sleight of thigh. Ana getting all hot and climbing on Christian’s lap for a quickie after burning rubber in a high-speed chase with his Audi is, well, kinda cute…and a little sexy. The shampoo and ice cream scenes are a little less sexy but still sensual and intimate. The red room is the red room and despite the fact that we are thronging to the theaters for a film on BDSM, they never show that much.

By the way, BDSM is an overlap of acronyms: (BD) stands for Bondage and Discipline, (DS) stands for Dominance and Submission, and (SM) stands for Sadism and Masochism.

The power switching between Ana and Christian is mildly interesting. Ana is definitely the sub and yet in her newfound sexual confidence and prowess as Mrs. Grey, she begins to assert more of her power. Sometimes she does it to coax Christian to dominate her and sometimes she does it to take control for herself. There is this subtle, but significant reverse psychology in her power play from the sub fantasy. She wants him to dominate. But she wants him to be compelled to dominate her because he finds her irresistible.

In the beginning of this trilogy, Ana is simple and terribly naive so as to appeal to his sense of superiority and power. But in the end, she breaks him down to a tender, vulnerable man who weeps silent tears at the thought of losing her. This is why she loves being spanked with a riding crop by this man. Because she is willing to give up her sexual power to be in the more important position of relationship power. It’s clear from the ardent fans that this particular BDSM fantasy caters more to women, and speaking as a woman, I think I understand why the sexual fantasy appeals so strongly to us.

Women want to be recognized and respected as equals to men in the workplace, but in romance and sex, we want to be claimed and prized and protected by these men. It’s the strange paradox between the endless protests of fiercely independent women’s libbers and the secret lives of those same women where they voluntarily hand over their decision-making powers for the sensual pleasures of being absolutely powerless and completely cared for.

We volunteer rather eagerly for the “me too” when it’s our sexual fantasy that we’re after. A rainbow of emotional bliss pouring into a pot of golden wedding bells. But not so much if the story ends with a grabbed ass or a facedown fuck in a mattress and no more. Then it turns into the equally viral #metoo. But sometimes, in someone else’s fantasy, having a secret button under his desk to seduce and dominate a woman is the pot of gold and there is no romance in the rainbow. And, really, who’s to say which BDSM fantasy is the right one or the wrong one?

Think about it…change anything in the story:

Take away Mr. Grey’s looks, his age, his wealth, his position of power, his relationship status or his virile potential and suddenly he’s just a controlling, abusive husband or worse, in the news for the next man who has resigned or been fired for sexual allegations. But give him chiseled abs and a billion dollars at the hot fuckable age of 30…promise every woman that Christian really loves Ana…and suddenly we all too gladly look the other way, turning a blind eye to his manipulation tactics and emotional instability….just as long as everything ends with true love and cherub babies. In fact, this is exactly why I think this film works and will continue to appeal to audiences…because the ending is just that: happily fucking, ever after.

But we know that real-life intimate relationships always take two people mutually respecting each other and equally taking responsibility for real love and real sex. So, enjoy your fantasy, ladies. But don’t forget that the movie is only a fantasy and that real love is the man sitting next to you trying not to roll his eyes too loudly at the ridiculous antics of Mr. and Mrs. Grey.

Now playing in theaters


 

Jeanne Antoinette

Raised in the gypsy wanderings of two ex-Mennonites who dared to question traditional thought, Jeanne continues her family legacy - usually by asking [too] many questions and constantly exploring outside the box. She has lived in 11 states and has 11 college transcripts, which humorously combine to make her seem overqualified, but also minimally credentialed. She loves libraries, linguistics, singing, and of course, writing. Her passion, at its core, is about communication and connection through storytelling. Jeanne is currently practicing the art of "staying" in San Antonio, along with her two children.
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