Day nine: Fifty Shades of Grey (March, 18)

Sometimes, I get the strong feeling that the whole world entered a time machine and went back to the middle of the last century. Reviews about religion, politics and art led to that impression. And I felt this way recently in the première of Fifty Shades of Grey the movie.

This post is monstrously gigantic, and for those who don't want to go through it all (even if I haven't spoke half of what I had in mind) the main part is that:
... for many people this story makes sense. They can enjoy the different aspects in it, are able to relate to many things in it or just want to escape the hardness of daily life. Each one has their own choices. What is unacceptable, for me, is that all the raging critics and opinions present a more aggressive disrespect to those readers and viewers about  whom those comments are yelling so loud: women are being called stupid, delusional, rape suporter, soccer silly moms for liking Fifty Shades (and other stories). That is really sad and worrying, and it pass unnoticed in many reviews about the movies and books.
However, it's not only that. There are really so many shades to that (pun intended), it is impossible to give a complete view about it (if there is any).

The only thin we lose in the movie is patience

The midnight viewing was a month ago. Today, it was the fourth time that I saw this film, despite it being realy bad. But since the midnight exhibition at february, 12th, some of the reviews about the movie bothered me a lot, and then I wanted to write something about it. 

E.L. James' book, published from her Twilight fanfic Master of The Universe, is in fact bad written. It doesn't help that, by standing on the premisses of the Twilight facts and characters, it is even more difficult to develop the world presented by her in the Fifty Shades series. But all of this actually didn't matter for those who enjoyed the books and waited anxiously for the movie.

And at this point a warning is mandatory: romantic novels are for those who enjoy the genre. I've being hearing many opinions by a lot of people that don't usually enjoy this kind of story saying that it is awfull. But they are not talking about only this story specially, even if they refer to it. 

Notwithstanding all the dilema around it, Fifty Shades, as Twilight, is a simple yet compelling story about being seen, accepted and loved,  despite all our bad baggage in life. They are, as usually we see in romantic novels, cheesy, sometimes silly, but also a gripping reading for those readers that can relate to this kind of story. Story, by the way, that is the protagonist, for me, in both not so amazingly written books.

But that's the thing: both Twilight and Fifty Shades are the same story. Even the sexuality of the last is present in the first, even though the Stephenie Meyer's attempt to  hide it for religious principles. And not by chance E.L. James wrote her tale in a oversexed manner from what she had read in Meyer's books. 

My main question, in this scenario, is: why those two stories, that are fundamentaly the same, made such a huge success, but at the same time it is so difficult to consider it objectively? Yes, because there was a lot of contrary noisy related to both cultural hits, and the Fifty Shades premiere made me think more attentively about it. 

For a time now, the scenery in popular romantic fiction is changing, I think. Of course, romantic love is still mandatory in so many stories, and Fifty Shades is not a exception. Robert Johnson, a jungian researcher, defends, in his book We, that the mith of romantic love has became a plague in the Ocidental world since the Middle Ages, in particular with the tale of Tristan and Isolde. He says that by those standards, we fall in love not with someone else, but with the idea that we make of that person. According to that concept, true love would be pure, beautiful, not physical and the main goal of a person's life. Noble and elevated, it become a high ideal in the ocident's way of life, in its collective unconscious (under the theories presented by Carl Jung). Love, by this idea, should overcome all the ordinary aspects of life, transforming the lovers in superior beings. Or something like that.

And love is a head way to the extraordinary... but not the idealized love, I think. 

Christian Grey, in Fifty Shades, carries the cliché image of all the romantic heroes in a popular setting and is superlative in a lot of things: too beautiful, too atractive, too rich, too inteligente (and too other things in this erotic tale). He is, as says the name of James' fanfic, the máster of the universe. Ana Steele, the innocent heroine, has no other alternative but to fall in love with him and be introduced to a world of opulence and expensive gifts. She refuses all of it, marking how her love is pure and not materially oriented. Not a novelty in the romantic novels scenario. 

However, in some point the usual setting in a romantic tale changed a bit. And is at that manner that Fifty  Shades made a difference, became a phenomenon and defied in some aspects the way that popular romantic characters were depicted. Christian looks like  the perfect prince, but he isn't. He is very aware of that and explicits it to Ana right away. But an atraction too strong for both character's sake force them to try a way to be together. 

Of course there are different reasons for a reader enjoy this story or relate to it. The dreamy settings, the already said opulence, how Christian can give everything to Ana, etc., etc. I don't know, that aspect didn't secure my attention on the books. But I'm aware that the desire for those things are an attrative point in the story, that it is being criticized for encouraging this kind of consumist fantasy. 

Well, what gripped me while reading the books were a  different thing, not better or worse than the other (and not so unusual for many readers, the ones that I could ask about their thoughts on the subject). 

Relationships are tough, but we commonly see at the movies how romantic love is presented as a salvation. Not for nothing, romantic stories used to end at the declaration of love and at the first kiss, as it was the conclusion of all probations and hard work. For me, Fifty Shades tells another thing, and because it is not rooted in a mythological set as Twilight, it could highlight this aspect clearly: each relationship has its own challenges and each person has its baggages in life. Pain, fears, concerns, ambivalent feeling and even traumas. To make ourselves available to someone else is also confront all this baggage. 

And that is about what Fifty Shades is for me and so many others: a story about being considered as worth of being loved. And if Christian Grey deserves to be loved, with all his bullshit (and I'm not talking about the bondage/dominant stuff), well, everybody else can. And I think readers can relate to that.

Going back to the beggining, the fanfic was a huge hit on the internet, the books were a succes of sales by word-of-mouth recommendations, and now the movies are also a box office hit. The noisy around it became deafening, and in its tumult the story got lost. And wich story?, one should ask? I think there is one worthy telling in the books actually. 

Raging reviews yelled how the books and the movie encourage domestic violence and rape (deep breath). And the impression that I had with the film was that all these dissonant opinion got the better in the movie production, that, by the result I saw four times in the theaters, was very affraid of how to tell Christian and Ana's erotic love story at the movies.

I really wanted to enjoy this film. I left the midnight screening telling myself that it was allright, the material was actually difficult and all. But the next day, I had to go back to the theater, and this time my perception was very different. The world that came to my mind was cowardice. 

Because, you see, the most of the drama about this story involves the bondage aspects of the relationship between the two characters. The explicit sex scenes provoked some of the viewers to go into the theater giggling hysterically in embarassment for what they would see in the screen, in a louder hysterics than the one I saw in the five premieres of Twilight. 

In Fifty Shades, Ana is bonded, veiled, hit durind sex, and that leads to some criticizing rolling eyes and loud shouts of rape. And this scenario was a real challenge to the production when came the time to choose how tell this story in film. And so the battle began: director and author disagreeing, protagonists hating each other, writer and producers with different views... it is not a surprise that the movie is a big mess.

The story, as it seems, was moot to the people responsible to telling it through images. The characters were dispensable too. Absent is what made millions of readers unable to stop reading such a bad written narrative until the end. Because the format of the narrative can't hide how intense and gripping is this love story (again, for those who like the genre). And that intensity is nowhere to be seen in the movie.

It doesn't help that both the main actors, Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, have the chemistry of two dead fishes. It doesn't help either that the sex scenes are cold as those dead creatures. And still doesn't help that the producers decided for a PG-17 rate to a story that builds a relationship through an atraction that is so strong that makes both characters go against what they believe in their lives to make their relationship works out. 

Ana is not stupid (even if she is forcibly linked to the attributes of a teenage girl, for being based in Bella Swan from Twilight). She is actually strong to such a young and inexperienced woman. Christian is not the rude rich guy that objectifies the girl who he is falling in love with - and the movie production portraits him just like that while trying to do the opposite.  The involved in the movie production tried so hard to distance themselves from the blurred aspects in the books that they manage exactly that with a mastery that confusion and greed (of course) can reach. 

It was a lost opportunity to tell this story better than the books. To picture a couple trying to be together despite their personal baggage and feelings. To show how, even through a cheesy writing (and it is really bad), E.L. James could present honest dialogues by characters that, for not being able to be far from each other, see not other option that to be true to themselves and the other one in order to make their relationship grow.

Abusiveness is present in every relation. Not necessarily physical, it is there, though. Manipulation, indiference, disrespect, lack of love, weakness, doubt, fear... It is not unusual. The unusual is the honesty and strenght to see our faults and admit that. Christian is brutally blunt about his flaws. He is abusive in the first book, but not sexualy. His major difficult is not being able to have a romantic relationship and to being touched, not the kind of sex that he enjoys (and he is not a dominant because of his traumas also, a factor that became clearer along the other two books - BSDM practitioners insist in criticize the books for that). He is a control freak, and has to change that in order to be in a relationship. Sometimes we want to punch him, it is true. But another important aspect in the story is that, while getting to  now Ana better and opening himself for another kind of relation, he doesn't give up his dominant features - I thought it was a positive point in E.L. James story, that highlight how his preferences are not a disease. 

Another key issue here is the openly and honest debate about female sexuality. EL James said in an interview that, despite all the controversy about her books, what she saw was a growing number of women (and men) paying greater attention to what is still very little discussed, including between women. In this sense, the book is not only not sexist, as it actually reaffirm in some ways the women's need to be aware of her choices regarding her own sexuality. The BDSM practice between Christian and Ana is not the main tone on their relationship, if you were here thinking how ironic it is that a woman has power over her sexuality in a submissive practice. It is not, however, and that is an important distinction. 

The second and third books in the series are even worse in some aspects than the first: the romantic features were almost unbearable to me,  until, at the middle of both, the story returned to what got my attention: two persons confronting their own fears and preconceived ideas about love in order to be together in an honest relationship, as I said before again and again. 

What is complicated about that? Friends that know how I research the impact of Twilight and Fifty Shades socialy came to tell me how they felt about the book. A friend that is a feminist activist said that she had to read it because of the noisy about agression - and the look of incredulity in her eyes was priceless. Some others found it a bad writen nice love story, and they had the same confusing look about all the dileme surrounding the books. Still other hated the first book, couldn't make themselves read the other - such a bad written story, they said. Not their  thing.

But for many people this story makes sense. They can enjoy the different aspects in it, are able to relate to many things in it or just want to escape the hardness of daily life. Each one has their own choices. What is unacceptable, for me, is that all the raging critics and opinions present a more agressive disrespect to those readers and viewers that the one they are yelling about: women are being called stupid, delusional, rape suporter, soccer silly moms for  liking the Fifty Shades (and other stories). That is really sad and worrying, and it pass unnoticed in many reviews about the movies and books.

At last (finaly!!!), I'd like to quote two commentaries to the NYTimes review of Fifty Shades of Grey before the film's releasing. It is odd how the critic enjoyed the movie, but couldn't admit it (in my view, of course). But, among a lot of noise and my own confusion in how a story can be murdered by a bad adaptation, two commentaries said what I tried to tell here, and I finish this long, long post with both:

I find it fascinating that a woman's story of love with kink as secondary player is under such scrutiny. The reason this book sold and kept selling is the redemptive factor of being seen, loved and accepted. Male fantasy tropes don't seem to get the same reduction to silliness. A leotard clad masked man in a cape that fights crime is not silly?
Thank you, Forest, for shutting up another of the 1970's anti sex feminists who are still lurking around (or their descendants), who don't know the difference between abuse and consensual activity, and don't want to, they are just as tied up in knots (pun intended) as the puritanical idiots on the religious right. Women bought the books out of curiousity, but they also bought the books (and other ones similar to it) because it was a fantasy, and more importantly, there is a lesson in it. Ultimately, the story is a conventional fantasy with a person who has scars being healed by love (hackneyed, but then again, most plots are), but in the end Anasthasia gets what she wants by the third book, she has Christian as a mate and lover, but also has learned she can get what she wants sexually. What this book ignited I think is that it triggered in woman the idea it is okay to ask for what you want (since if you read the book, Anasthasia is in effect 'serviced' a lot more than Christian is), and I think it told them that it is okay to play around and try different things. Whether the book is badly written or not is irrelevant, it touched many of those reading it and it helped dispel the message of religion, that has so made sex into a baby making machine with woman as a vassal to the man's needs, they haven't grown up out of the medieval period. 

This is how close these two were...
Fifty Shades of Grey. Direct by Sam Taylor-Johnson (it should been directed by the person responsible for the soundtrack). With: Jamie Dornan (after Charlie Hunman runned away from the character, he is now saying that he is not afraid of frontal nude scenes, in a diss to Dornan's no frontal policy... to late, right?); Dakota Johnson. Jennifer Ehle. Writer: Kelly Marcel from the book by E. L. James. US, 2015, 125 min., SDDS/Dolby Digital/Datasat, Color (Cinema).

 PS: Fragments: I Am Legend (2007), Rumour Has It (2005) and, first thing in the morning, Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) again.  I couldn't desconect myself from it. And talking about chemistry... Sam Taylor-Johnson would learn a lot with Jarmusch. 

PPS: The rules of romantic love are really bizzare. One of the most surreal reallity tv shows nowadays, and for many years now (13 to be exact), is The Bachelor and its spin-offs - The BacheloretteBachelor Pad and the recent Bachelor in Paradise. Last week I saw a interview in which Sean Penn said he and Charlize Theron watch the show, but they argue about fastfowarding the images - Sean defends that the interesting in it is the decisions and all the crying. He doesn't enjoy the dates and dialogue parts. It is  tough in fact. I agree with him. But I always find a way to do something while watching it in order to endure it till the end, even if I see the show by choice. There is a difference between The Bachelor/The Bachelorette and the other two spin-offs: the goal in the first is to find true love, it is a romantic goal for life, they say. The last two are competitions in the more tradicional ways, in which the winners receive money. So, in those,  sex is allowed, changing partners are common, what is not admited in the seeking for love. What is this life?, I ask. 

PPPS: Today, my good friend Kal, a sister by heart, sent me this image form her LA sightseeing. I thought it was related to this post, so I present it here:


  1. I love the way you lovely talk about love, love. It kinda reminds of the classes, back then.

    1. I'm not kidding when I say that I love Love :) And you're the lovely one, with your kind coments :) Thank you, darling!!!!