It’s the highly anticipated film that countless couples will flock to this Valentine’s Day. But in reality Fifty Shades of Grey is a sickening love letter to the cycle of domestic abuse.
It started with a glass of champagne and a novelty whip, but ended with a cold feeling of despair set to a Beyoncé remix.
That, in a nutshell, sums up my experience at last night’s Fifty Shades of Grey premiere. A Valentine’s Day cash grab that’s more chilling then cheesy.
The night started off innocently enough with a general air of giddy excitement and silliness peppering the audience, but once the lights went down all that festive energy was quickly sucked from the room.
First up it has to be said that visually speaking, the movie is impressive. It’s beautifully shot and the art direction is sublime, giving the impression that we all would have enjoyed it a lot more had noise cancelling headphones been handed out instead of bubbles.
In the opening scene we’re introduced to our heroine, Anastasia Steele, a shy college graduate with no interesting attributes apart from the fact that she likes ‘books’ (in the novel she says she only reads ‘classic British books’, but the writers obviously wanted her to seem less of a git on screen).
Our Bella-Swan-wannabe quickly encounters the much-hyped Christian Grey and it’s during this uncomfortable ‘boy-meets-girl’ moment that we’re also introduced to the facial expressions they’ll both adopt for the remainder of the film. Hello ‘demure’ and ‘brooding’, it was nice spending two hours with you. All other facial expressions and emotions, thank you for your time and interest but your presence will not be required.
Of course, it’s all too easy to pick apart the writing, characters and plot that make up Fifty Shades Of Grey. It’s been done to death and, frankly, no one was going into this movie expecting it to be Oscar-worthy, so that’s not really the issue at hand. The issue is that it’s dressed up as cheesy, sexy and fun-time-romp when it’s really just a weakly glamourised depiction of abuse.
Under the guise of ‘sexual awakening’ Christian Grey proceeds to stalk, intimidate and manipulate Anastasia into a relationship where the power structure is so unbalanced it makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa look like a solid achievement in architecture. Many defenders of the Fifty Shades franchise like to harp on about the fact that Anastasia ‘consents’ to this treatment, and therefore there are no underlying themes of threat or abuse.
However, let’s look at the bigger picture.
Anastasia is a young and sexually inexperienced woman in the throes of her first romantic relationship while Christian fits the classic profile of a domestic abuser by attempting to isolate her from friends and family. He also threatens to terminate their relationship should she tell anybody about their Dominate/Submissive antics. She chooses to stay with him and because of that we’re supposed to ignore the currents of physical, emotional and mental abuse that continue to roar their ugly heads throughout the film.
But of course, that’s the ugly kicker about domestic abuse, in that it’s coupled with a range of emotions from love to co-dependance that are in no way black and white. If it was as easy as saying ‘no’ and walking away, then we wouldn’t have any cases of domestic abuse.
Then there’s Christian Grey, the broody, dashing hero who has been credited with sexually awakening and empowering a generation of women. Due to his wealth and good-looks we’re suppose to find it charming that he has to violently beat his sexual partners in order to continue any sort of relationship with them. Geez, Mr Darcy fans, how things have changed in the world of romantic fiction.
However, by the end of the film, we sadly come to see that Christian is just as much of a victim of the cycle of abuse as Anastasia is. After being physically and emotionally abused by his drug addicted mother as a small child, he is then sexually abused for more than six years by one of his mother’s friends from the age of 15.
If this little piece of back-story was reversed, and it was an insecure 15-year-old girl being seduced by a 40-something man, I doubt it would be seen as quite so titillating. More than once the audience is treated to a nice close-up shot of the burn marks covering Christians body, relics of his early years of abuse. This troubling visual is shaped as more erotic than unnerving and hey, what’s a few childhood scars when we’ve got perfectly chiseled abs to look at?
Any man or women who walks out of Fifty Shades of Grey and thinks ‘that’s what I want’ needs to seriously reassess their emotional and mental state.
Any movie that ends with a traumatised young woman shaking and sobbing on a bed after the man she loves has beaten her for pleasure, while said man stands beside her without an inch of remorse, is not a movie we should be celebrating.
On another note, it’s also not the movie to see if you’re looking to ignite the Valentine’s Day romance. As the credits began to roll one of my fellow movie goers said “I thought I’d have to call my boyfriend to come over after this because I’d be feeling all frisky, but after that all I want to do is go home alone and exercise my right not to be domestically abused.”
Fifty Shades of Grey is in cinemas now, but I advise you see anything else.