I can’t believe I’m reviewing Fifty Shades of Grey before Birdman

Fifty Shades of Grey was more than entertaining for me. I found it excellent as a “success on its own terms,” (Robbie Collins for The Telegraph). It is the best possible outcome for an adaptation (my writer side refused to get it up for the novel). I believe the book already “destigmatizes kink,” (A.O. Scott for The New York Times, whom I largely disagree with). The sociology major in me is delighted by this collective challenge of the norm. However, this was not primarily what I believe the movie was meant to do or be.

The movie is propelled by the production (clearly not the plot or even the acting). One of the more impressive aspects of the movie was that it was so sensual (and I’m not talking about the room or those scenes). In other words, what makes this movie great is how it seduced multiple senses, especially because it went beyond the expected. Almost all of the artistic/aesthetic choices had intention.

My favorite aspect of the movie was probably something that went unnoticed: Christian’s deliberate choices in wine. This is one of the more sophisticated character development devices across movies of this caliber (I still love you, Twilight. #teamedward). I took it as his emotional “tell.” It is clear that he does not condone aimless consumption of alcohol. Therefore, it is important to note when he does indulge: (1) when he has her over to present the contract, he chooses a light, white wine. I imagine it with a bit of an acid/mineral profile to cut the tension (like a chardonnay you might chose to pair with a raclette); (2) Champagne was obvious for her graduation, but (3) the viognier, I imagine, that they had over the contract review scene was fuller bodied and sweet, almost chewy, in his attempts to psychologically soften her stance.

Other high points included:

– When Anastasia enters the car on her way to the helicopter. I could practically smell the leather.

– That bathtub, nuff said. (As an anecdote, the best movie bathtub is still Driss’ in Intouchables). 

– The card stock of the contract = textural ecstasy, for me.

What I think is the most important lesson to be learned from 50 Shades, as a body of work, is about the dialectical nature of boundaries. Or, in other words, the liberation one can achieve on a personal and cooperative level by clearly delineating limits and expectations. I see the vehicle of this as honesty. If more people were honest (with themselves first and then with others) about who they were and what they wanted (not just in the bedroom) we would all probably like ourselves better and have more rewarding encounters.

I have always been scared of boundaries. Hell, I lived a pretty boundless life for a while. And you know what? I was miserable. I strayed farther from myself than I ever had because I lacked honesty and structure.

Christian is the dominant and Anastasia is the submissive. I find it fascinating to watch both characters struggle to fit into what that actually means. Is it not the truth that in situations involving more than just one human being, that there usually emerges a dominant and a submissive? We have somehow culturally imposed a very large river, if you will, between these titles, forcing this pair to polarity. However, what if we accept that maybe the proportional degrees of difference in these roles may not be so extreme? As well, what if we accept a certain level of agency that both roles have unto themselves and vis-à-vis others? Would it be so scary, then?


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