|What a caretaker!|
|He plays the piano.|
Anastasia doesn't understand why she and Christian can't just be boyfriend and girlfriend. Why can't they just hang out and watch Netflix? (I don't do the boyfriend thing, he says sullenly.) Why do they have to have elaborate theatrical sex during which she will feel some amount of pain. She asks him: Why do you want to hurt me? Again the language is oddly fixated on inflicting harm and not on the pleasure that both the dom and the sub take in BDSM sex practices.
If Fifty Shades' plot is one that hinges on the granting or withholding of consent, it is worth noting that Anastasia does not, after all, sign the contract. In other words, officially, Anastasia withholds her consent from these sex practices. The film sets up this additional threshold of consent – she is to sign a contract – and, because it is a document that needs to be signed or not signed, it is always extremely clear that Anastasia does not cross this threshold. Perhaps surprisingly, this withheld consent does not stop her from having (and enjoying) sex with Christian, and it doesn't stop her from willingly yet hesitantly participating in some of the sex practices he has proposed. In other words, Anastasia both withholds her consent and grants it.
Fifty Shades, to be clear, represents a woman who says no, who says no repeatedly, but who actually means yes. She always officially says no, but what she actually wants is for her lover to convince her. At one point she actually texts him "Nice knowing you", but when he shows up with wine and ice (?) and tells her she didn't mean that at all, she completely agrees. No, she didn't mean she was done with him forever. She meant: try a different tactic and then perhaps the answer will be yes.
* * *And another thing: as much as this film seems fascinated by kink and is willing to use it to titillate its audience, Fifty Shades is also surprisingly normative. I don't make love. I fuck. Hard, Christian tells Anastasia early in the film. But, we will come to find out, he is full of lies. He is happy to make sweet sweet love to the film's protagonist, and even spend the night with her, arms intertwined. He will protest, of course, that he doesn't do such things, he's not the boyfriend type, but, as it turns out, he absolutely does do those things. Mr. Grey spends much of the film holding Anastasia's hand, holding her face in his hands, caressing her lower lip, performing cunnilingus on her, caressing her with the feathers of peacocks, washing her back in a bathtub they share. And that's when he's not playing the piano, lifting her gently and carrying her to bed, dancing with her around his penthouse, posing for pictures with his arm around the small of her back, flying her around in his helicopter, or introducing her to his parents as his girlfriend. What's interesting about this is that Christian is obviously some kind of romantic heteronormative fantasy: he is simultaneously the image of the perfect future-husband who is rich and well dressed and can fly a helicopter and also the bad boy who hides his true feelings and secretly wants to hurt you.
|Christian, I feel like there is something between us. Like a windshield.|
(One might also ask why Christian Grey doesn't simply go on the internet and find a woman who is into his tastes from the get-go instead of trying to convince this college girl that she really will like it, no trust me.)
|Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night.|
I had numerous other problems with this movie, of course – mostly because it was a terrible film – but I see no reason to go into them. Fifty Shades, if it is anything, is a purely unrealistic rape-fantasy; the movie is simply a series of fantastic romantic images all of which involve the hope that the man of one's dreams won't take no for an answer. Christian Grey himself is merely the projection of many of those desires. There is much, perhaps, that is intriguing here about the way that Fifty Shades represents the fantasy of the white American (mostly) heterosexual woman in the early 21st century. These fantasies are, I will confess, darker than I had thought. But they strike me as dark not because of their propensity toward kink, but because what is clear in this version of the female fantasy is that the film simply refuses to be clear about what we think we in the 21st century mean by the word rape. The shades of grey upon which this film is predicated are all between the word yes and the word no.