Fifty Shades of Grey
Blame the common cold for what follows.
Kate Kavanagh was all set to interview the dashing young business magnate Christian Grey. The soon-to-be-journalism graduate had her questions at the ready, a recorder primed to catch every word and pause. But wouldn’t you know it, a virus turned Kate into a walking mass of sniffles and sneezes, and she knows the only interview she’ll be doing will be with a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup.
The interview still has to get done for the college paper. So Kate asks her roomie, Anastasia Steele, if she might fill in. Hey, the girl’s an English lit major, right? Close enough to journalism.
Thoughtful roommate that she is, Ana dutifully heads to Christian’s oh-so-chic Seattle offices. “Clean,” she later describes him—crisp in his gray suit and tie, precise in movement and language, Ken Doll pretty, intimidating. Flustered, she’s forgotten a pen. He gives her a pencil.
What’s the secret of his success, she asks. He has a way with people, he says. He can evaluate them quickly and utilize them to fulfill his needs. When she suggests he’s something of a control freak, he agrees. “I exercise control in all things, Ms. Steele.” What does he like to do in his spare time? “I enjoy various physical pursuits,” he says, a hint of a smile playing across his face.
And then he begins asking Ana questions.
“There’s really not much to know about me,” Ana says with a blush.
Christian won’t believe that. And perhaps in that moment, the young tycoon decides to know Ana in every way possible.
We are broken people living in a broken world, and Christian is a prime example. “I’m 50 shades of f—ed up,” he admits, and both Ana and the audience will ultimately agree.
Positive? Not even close. But Fifty Shades of Grey is actually a bit more than just a squalid exploration of one man’s sexual predilections. In Ana, it gives us a woman who wants to heal his brokenness. Let drop the sordid trappings in which Grey flails, and you’re left with a lopsided love story of sorts—a longing for real intimacy, a desire to partner with someone in every capacity. Ana longs for a bond far stronger and more powerful than the handcuffs Christian so likes. And Christian—as much as he tries to make the relationship all about sex—also finds that love is getting in the way.
Christian’s drive to inflict pain ultimately tears the two apart. Ana walks out, refusing to be treated as merely an object for his pleasure and reservoir for pain. We know from subsequent books that their estrangement is not permanent, of course. But this movie, at least, offers a small statement as it ends supporting self-worth and respect.
Based on E L James’ best-selling novel and nearly unrivaled cultural sensation,Fifty Shades of Grey gives us not one but two broken people hoping to find salvation in each other. This is a love story, it could be said. But any love story without God gets twisted into a broken, heartbreaking jumble. We go to extremes when we try to sate our leaking souls with the stuff of this world. When we don’t understand the love of Christ, we don’t understand love at all. We needlessly hurt the ones we think we love. We confuse words like honor andobey with subjugation and degradation. We have a monster within us, all of us. We make a mess of things.
And what a mess this movie is.
For men, it can push us toward fixation on dark and dangerous fantasies. And that’s before even mentioning the nudity. For women, we’re given the deceptive allure of an abusive protagonist who checks, it seems, many a literary fantasy box: a strong, good-looking, fabulously wealthy and (this is key) broken man who needs to be shown what real love is.
This is why Ana suffers such abuse. This is why so many of us are reading and watching. Never mind whether the content contained in Fifty Shades of Greyfalls short of or crosses over a legal definition of domestic abuse or pornography; with a cancerous intensity it caters to the cravings and hungers that all pornography serves. Porn rips us away from the real, flesh-and-blood people in our lives. It feeds unrealistic, dangerous and hurtful expectations of what sex and love can be twisted into. As it becomes ever more pervasive in our culture, it damages and abuses us in ways that we’re just beginning to fully understand.
A postscript. There is much more to be said, of course, about Fifty Shades of Grey and its impact on all of us.