50 Shades of Grey

(Above) Scene from 50 Shades of Grey.
50 Shades of Grey is now avaiable on HBO, HBO Streaming, and DirecTV.


I did not go to the theater to see 50 Shades of Grey.  Sure, it was a cultural phenomena and had gotten tons of people interested in BDSM. Even so, everyone I knew who had seen it hated it. So I waited until it premiered on HBO in November.   HBO will run it for several months, so you’ll have plenty of time to check it out. The big question is, should you?

I anticipated it would be bad. Really bad. Nothing, though, had prepared me for the true awfulness I was about to experience.

This movie gets everything wrong. The casting is terrible. For a successful and powerful billionaire, Jamie Dornan lacks charisma. There is little chemistry between he and Dakota Johnson. Details are way off, down to simple things like her doing an interview with him asking questions that no first year journalism student would ask of someone already famous and well known. The writing is just generally bad.

But the real problem is that this is far from being a sex positive movie, and it knows nothing about how BDSM players actually play. While the character of Anastasia in the book does get enjoyment from the BDSM play, she clearly does not here.

The sex is not particularly appealing. There is a scene where Christian deflowers Anastasia. BDSM play tends to be elaborate, and foreplay is a large component. Doms tend to take their time. Here he simply rams himself into her. Like the other sex in this movie, it is mostly depressing and sad.

When she actually invites him to act out his fantasies on her, he whips her. Okay, this was pretty tame compared to many of the scenes in real life I have seen, but even this was too much for her.  She becomes angry, tells him to never touch her again, and walks out on him for good (well, until the sequel).

This is a classic chick flick. Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy a good chick flick, not that there is anything good about this one. The story here is not about a BDSM relationship, because in fact, in the movie, they never actually have one. It is about the classic trope of an emotionally damaged man, and the valiant young woman who comes into his life to try and fix him. In the end, she realizes that she can’t. That is actually a good choice, since in real life it seldom works out well for the women who attempt to fix emotionally damaged men. The women are the ones who usually wind up getting broken themselves.

BDSM play is portrayed in the movie as a sickness, comparable to child molestation. Christian says that he was sexually molested when he was 15 by a woman who used him as a submissive. That is child abuse, and he is simply repeating that same abuse on the childlike Anastasia. It is not a movie about sex, but about mental illness. Christian is unable to have a normal physical love relationship, apparently because of the sexual abuse he received as a child. All of his manifestations of BDSM play are colored by his dysfunction.

The movie has absolutely nothing to do with the way that normal people experience BDSM play, any more than a film about a serial rapist has anything to do with normal dating. This is a twisted unhealthy world that Christian lives in. You won’t learn anything of value about BDSM from him, or this movie.