Sunday, February 15, 2015

Ana is Abusively Vanilla – My 50 Shades Film Review

Full disclosure: It’s 2:30am while I'm writing the first draft of this and the most substantial thing I’ve eaten in more than twenty-four hours has been the top layer of popcorn and half-a-large-cup of root beer at the theater, so I’m probably not in a great mental state to be doing this. So apologies in advance if I’m overly angry about all this. 

I’m going to get in trouble for this post and I fully well know that most people are going to disagree with me. But this is my opinion based on the movie I saw and the experience and knowledge I have.


But, anyway, I can’t sleep because I’m really mad. Furious. Livid really. So strap in for a looooong one.


Sooooo, I went to this film to hate-watch it. I don’t think anyone who knows me is surprised by that. I went to the theatre expecting to loathe the film. I’d intended to give it the same fair shot I gave the books, but I was going with the expectation that the movie was going to be the same steaming pile of shit that the novels are.


And, I gotta say, I didn’t hate it.


It was actually a very self-aware, kink-friendly, vanilla-accessible, SSC film for the most part. From a kink perspective, it actually follows more SSC rules than many of our other highly held fictions, like Secretary or 9 ½ Weeks. A lot of the glaring problems I had with the books were very well handled in the film.


There were even some clever nods to some things that were ridiculous in the book (like the feathery comment about the flogger turned into him trailing a peacock feather over her body, the three-pages full of helicopter lingo turned into one charlie-tango line then a musical montage, and the useless half-page scene of her showing up to work then going home was an amusing three-second scene nod). There were even many Twilight references in the film, from the framing of many shots to Christian playfully throwing Ana over his shoulder when she tells him that she can’t walk that fast in high heels. The movie knew what it was. Knew what everyone expected it to be. And knew what it really, really, really wanted to be.


Which was, in the end, a decent movie. Not a great movie, by any stretch of the imagination, but a decent film with some very interesting social commentary, for anyone willing to listen.


Ana isn’t really stupid in the movie. A little klutzy. A little naïve. A little dorky. But not stupid. She’s college educated and well-read. The movie does keep her virgin status (and does unfortunately treat it like an affliction, which was sad to see but not unexpected) and does make her a little unrealistically dense in that she doesn’t seem to know anything about BDSM or even fisting or butt plugs. But she knows how to Google and she knows how to ask questions. She’s not helpless or passive or the doormat she is in the books. And she’s not the agency-less, powerless child James had written. 


Actually, Movie Ana seems extremely calculated. You get the feeling like she knows exactly what she’s doing at all times. She’s in complete control the entire film. To the point that she feels far more in control of their relationship than Christian. When confused, she asks questions, like she did in the negotiation scene and in the woods when they talk about why Christian is kinky. When pushed, she establishes boundaries, like when he tries to move their conversation to the living room but she tells him that she’ll “hold onto my free will for a little bit longer, if you don’t mind.” And she makes decisions all on her own, like when she vetoes many things in the negotiation scene and when she leaves the state to visit her mother for days. A part of me—the part that hated Book Ana—really liked that in the film she was very self-aware and self-possessed. Another part of me...


Well, we’ll get into that in a bit.


And Christian?


He was flawed, yes, but...I actually liked him. Grey, even at his creepiest, always seems to have Ana’s best interests in mind without ever really feeling like he expects anything in return. He uses safewords—the stoplight system (though he needs to learn the value of “green;” “yellow” and “red” are very important—it’s good to know when you’re doing things wrong—but “green” lets you know when you’re doing things right, which is just as important). He uses checklists—which he calls a contract, even though it never really felt like one since it’s highly negotiable and, even when she violates it, she doesn’t get punished (though he does still have the atrociously unethical NDA in the film, which I wish they'd cut). He obtains affirmative consent at every turn. They have conversations about how kink is more about pleasure than pain. They talk about BDSM being safe and consensual. He negotiates well.


Actually, my favorite scene in the movie is when they’re at his office doing negotiations over the contract he gave her. I actually loved everything about that scene. From the flirty texts that establish that this is going to be a kinky play on a business meeting, business-wear and conference tables and everything. To the actual equal give and take of the negotiations. The clarifications of terms and the establishment of her hard limits and her active consent. 


And, for anyone who thought it was ridiculous to have a contract that long, I'll grant you, in the books, it was ridiculous to demand that kind of relationship with someone without offering them a chance to research, negotiate, or veto. Especially, if this is your first relationship of this type. But, when you have informed veto-power, length makes much less of a difference. Then that contract becomes more of a highly negotiable checklist. And have you seen how long these things can get? When they're comprehensive and exploratory, yeah, the pages rack up. But that's a good thing. The point of checklists are to see what your partner and you are into. To see what your hard limits are, what your expectations are, and what's negotiable territory. You're better off being more comprehensive than less.


Even the legalese of the contract that seemed super ridiculous in the book felt honest and playful in the movie. This was a game, a role they both were playing, and there are certain conventions and rules that help make up the scene. That help make the scene fun as well as productive.


There was also a beautiful moment when Ana lets out a laugh during the scene. And, for a moment, you think that Grey is going to get mad—censure or yell at her for breaking the scene—but he doesn’t. He just thinks about it and lets it go. Because this shit is funny. Kink—and sex in general—is often funny. And more erotica and porn needs to let it be. It’s called “play” for a reason.


And his play feels...well, playful and GGG. He’s competent with his play. He baby-steps her into kink scenes very well. The ties he uses are never super tight or elaborate or taxing for a beginner sub. He never hits her very hard and always in very controlled, very deliberately light strokes (until the end, but we’ll talk about that in a moment). In fact, the very first strike he gives her with a toy is a crop to the palm of her hand, so she could see that it doesn’t hurt, not really. In fact, most of their play, in the Red Room and out, is based mostly in sensual touch, kissing and touching. Vanilla stuff—not that there's anything wrong with that. The kink in the film was realistic and well-portrayed, if boring and very beginner, newbie BDSM.


In one review, they'd suggested taking shots every time Ana bites her lip (she does do that constantly and it drives Christian weirdly wild, but YKINMKBTOK). I think, if you're going to do a drinking game of this film, drink every time the film deals with positive forms of consent, from verbally obtaining consent to mentioning the tools to give informed consent like research, checklists, negotiations, and safewords. You'll get drunk way faster and it's a much more interesting and impactful critique of the film.


He’s genuinely a good, if not terribly interesting guy beyond his ridiculous fortunes and resources.


Is he perfect? No. He’s pretty emotionally and socially awkward and stupid. I mean, he still shows up at her work, home, and around her friends and family without warning in a very how the fuck did he know where she was? way.


But, even that doesn’t feel like stalking. It feels like a missing scene. Because, unlike the books, Ana never seems to be surprised that he found her. Surprised that he just shows up unannounced? Sure. But she never asks him how he found her. As if, in another scene that ended up on the cutting room floor for pacing, she’d told him where she would be.


Which, let’s be honest, makes a hell of a lot more sense than the book saying that he tracks her through her cell phone. The movie never mentions that. Because it’s creepy and unrealistic. It cut that part, for good reason and to its credit.


It makes more sense that Ana told him where she was and we just never saw that moment. It explains why she never says that he’s stalking her. It explains why she never asks how he knew where she was. And, if the movie and the book are separate entities—which they are and deserve to be treated as such—one can compare and contrast the two, but I think it’s unfair to use things from the book against the movie. Because the movies are not the books. They diverge greatly.


For instance, the store scene that felt creepy in the book didn’t in the movie. I think, because you’re not stuck in Ana’s head and the film doesn’t make a big deal out of how out of his way the store is or how she never told him where she worked. It feels more like maybe she’d told him where she worked in an unseen moment and he just wanted to see where she worked because he’s curious about her.


Really, all it needed was one simple fix for that. A couple simple lines where something like this happened:

Grey: So where do you work, Miss Steele?  
Ana: Nowhere exciting. Just a store called Clayton’s Hardware. 
Grey: Really? Could I come by sometime to visit you there? I think I’d like to see that.  
Ana: Oh, I really don’t think it’s your kind of thing.  
Grey: Oh, you’d be surprised.
Done. Now it's not nearly the creepfest it was in the book and still gets to keep a bit of the source material’s cheese factor.

And the jealousy moment in this same scene was downplayed very nicely to be a normal moment of jealousy where he just kinda gives the classically attractive man she works with a dirty look when he interrupts their conversation. I’m not saying it’s admirable—she isn’t his property and he doesn’t get to lay dibs on her—but it’s a normal thing that normal people do. And it never feels all that harmful. A little insulting and anti-feminist? Sure. But harmful? Not in a way that a simple conversation wouldn’t fix.


Even the gifts he gives her don’t seem as creepy in the film as they do in the books. In the books, because you’re stuck in Ana’s head and she gives Grey all these ulterior and mysterious motives, the gestures feel very manipulative and full of hidden meanings. Does he love her? Does he hate her? Is he pushing her away? Is he pulling her close? Does he expect anything in return?


But, in the film, they just come off as a stupidly rich guy with little to no social intelligence being weirdly generous. He asks her to email him, she tells him that she would except her computer is broken, so he sends a guy with a brand new computer to her home. She makes a quip about how she also collects vintage cars to describe her old, run-down-looking car, so he buys her a new car as a graduation gift. Is it weird? You betcha. But it’s weird that he has so much goddamned money to throw around more than anything.


Because there’s nothing inherently threatening about giving someone a gift. Even an extravagant gift. The threat lies in when the gift-giver makes the receiver feel indebted to them because of the gifts.


But, in the film, Christian never asks Ana for anything in return for the gifts. He just saw a problem that she had and did what he could to fix it. And since he has more money than God, apparently he can afford to do quite a bit.


Take the computer. Does he use it to email her about his desires? Sure. But the thing has the internet on it. He’s hardly cutting her off from the world or using it to restrict her. In fact, he urges her to do her own research on the kind of relationship he’s describing. And she’s an English major. All we do is read and research and write. It’s what we’re good at. It’s not unreasonable for him to assume that she can do this on her own.


In fact, there’s something a little admirable in the fact that he doesn’t rely on just himself to teach her about kink, but instead makes her education her own responsibility. Because, if he hadn’t, couldn’t the argument be made that he skewed her view on kink to be what and how he perceives kink and not necessarily what it’s commonly held to be? By giving her the means and encouragement to fucking Google “Kink 101,” he’s allowing her to decide what she thinks and form her own opinions. Like the twenty-two-year-old adult she’s supposed to be and the movie, unlike the books, lets her be. Quite a few kinksters learn the basics on their own. And, in the age of the internet, it's incredibly easy to find instructional and informational books, sites, podcasts, and videos for kink. All reviewed, rated, and ranked by users and professionals alike to make things easy. It's actually a little unreasonable and insulting to think that she's incapable of finding this kind of information on her own.


And, her car, was it weird that he took her car without asking? Yes. But he was surprising her with a new one. One that she gratefully, if awkwardly accepts. He also offers to sell the car and give her the money from the sale. She only actively objects when the relationship ends, where mid-fight she demands her car back. But time has passed and the car has been sold, so he promises to send her a check. Without hesitation, argument, or debate. In fact, if anything, this moment is portrayed with regret on his part. For a lot of things.


Again, it's weird, but it never feels coercive or abusive. Just…weird. It’s always Christian's money that makes him an outlier and feel not quite right. But that feels more like a money-management problem than an abuse problem.


The weirdest, creepiest moments for him were all surrounded around Ana’s trip to Georgia. And even that wasn’t really that creepy.


So they’re at dinner with his family having a pleasant, if bland time, when Ana mentions that she’s leaving the next day to visit her mother in Georgia for a few days. Christian seems taken aback by this, but calmly finishes dinner before excusing them both at the end of the meal, telling his family that he’s going to show her the grounds. He then drags her outside and playfully begins to scold her for not telling him about the trip.


Which is fair. You’re dating someone and you neglect to tell them that you’re disappearing for the next few days? I don’t know many people who wouldn’t be a little miffed at that. Most people in a relationship want to spend time with the people they’re dating. They become pretty prominent fixtures in their social calendars. So, yeah, the fact that they’re leaving and didn’t bother to even mention it to you...it smacks a lot of you not being important enough to them to mention it to you. It’s a dick move.


But then she gets huffy about it and yells at him for being confusing and controlling. To which he responds with a weirdly forceful “You’re mine.”


Anyone who’s read my stories knows that I’m actually very fond of this phrase. I think, in the right context, it’s terribly romantic and creates and cements bonds between kinky partners who, in many ways, feel rejected and like outsiders in the wider world. Many of us grow up thinking that love and romance and relationships, the way they’re traditionally perceived in society, aren’t possible for people like us. Because the media and the world has taught us that they aren’t. So, yes, the idea that someone is willing and excited to claim you as their own…that’s powerful to a lot of us.


However, in this particular context…again, it feels weird. Like he’s forcing this relationship to fit that mold. It’s too fast. It comes out under the worst circumstances, when she desperately feels less his rather than in a moment where the bond is strong. So, yeah, that statement—that declaration—felt undeserved and a little creepy. It reeks of desperation.


But again not in an abusive way. In an aw, you need a therapist more than a relationship kind of way. It never feels malicious or harmful. Just sad and misguided.


But, more importantly, this moment completely violates their contract. And how does he react? A little like a drama queen? Sure. But he lets her go. Without punishment. Without repercussion. Without much objection.


Makes you think that that contract—that they’d negotiated, letting her veto and add to at will—doesn’t actually feel all that binding. Which is why I said that it feels more like a checklist than a contract, no matter their business-meeting role play.


At any rate, this is then followed by Ana going on her trip. Ana begins to miss him, so she texts him to tell him so. He texts her back that he misses her too and also casually mentions that he’s off to meet a friend for dinner.


Ana has an insanely jealous moment and freaks out that he’s going to dinner with his ex and stops talking to him.


And, yes, it was an overreaction for him to then leave Seattle to go to Savannah because his over-the-top jealous play partner stopped answering his phone calls. But, again, he’s socially awkward and has more money than sense.


Again, that’s weird and someone needs to get this boy a kink-friendly therapist and a subscription to FetLife so he can find a better play partner. And possibly an accountant, because if this keeps up I’m pretty sure he’s going to end up bankrupt. But it’s not abusive.


Again, she never seems to wonder how he found her—again, seems like a missing itinerary-sharing scene—rather she seems much more upset by the ex than his sudden appearance.


Another crime too many people are laying at Movie Christian's feet was the fact that he does a scene while stressed. ...So? Kink, like all kinds of sex, is a great stress-reliever. It feels good and—surprise, surprise—often leaves you feeling better at the end of it. 


I do believe that you need to be in good working order to do it. But, in the film, we see Christian play and, despite him yelling on the phone about some business completely unrelated to Ana moments before they head to the playroom, he seems fine. His play never suffers. He never does anything unethical in the scene. He doesn't push boundaries. He doesn't take the play too far. His play is the same tame, baby-stepped kink as before. So what's the problem?


People are allowed to be people, even kinky people. We all have a lot shit going on all the time. We all have work stress, family stress, money stress, relationship stress, all-kinds-of-stress stress in our lives at any given time. If we had to wait until we were perfectly zen, with no hint of stress in our lives, to play, no one would get to play ever.


When we say that people should never play angry, what we mean is that you should never play while you're not in control of your emotions. You should never allow your outside life to affect your play negatively. But, from what I saw in the film, Grey doesn't do that. 


In the film, we never even know what the phone call in question was about. We just know that it was important enough to call him back from Savannah to Seattle. It's hinted in the film that the call is business-related. Work stress. Nothing terribly traumatic (a person who'd read the book did tell me that the call had something to do with another ex resurfacing, but the film never tells me that, so as far as my movie review goes it was a business call until I'm told otherwise). Nothing that would take play off the table.


After all, how many of us have had stress-relieving vanilla sex? Had a crappy day at work? Really good head can work wonders to fix that, I promise. For kinky people, the same principle applies. Do we need to be watchful and vigilant to make sure that our play remains responsible? Sure, but the same can be said for vanilla sex, even really good head.


In fact, kink can be very helpful in moments like this. Because of its nature, kink forces you to leave your outside life at the dungeon door. You can't be thinking about work or family or friends or whatever while you're in-scene. Cause you're in-scene. Because of the play you're doing, you have to be thinking about what you're doing and what's happening in the moment. That's why we talk so much about headspace. It's very freeing to let everyday worries go for the space of a scene. To let pleasure, yours and your partners', be bigger than those stresses. It often helps put things in perspective. Everyday stress seems less daunting when you can set it aside for an hour or two and the world didn't crash. It can make picking that stress back up at the end of the scene feel less like a chore.


And I would concede this point if the movie even insinuated that Grey's play suffered at this point in the film. But it doesn't. 


Yet another crime that is being brought up a lot is the scene where, after Ana sends Grey a very cryptic "It's been nice knowing you" email, Christian just appears at Ana's home while she's doing laundry. And, yes, for a moment while you're watching the film, you wonder wait, did he just commit a B&E home invasion? Which, in the books, I've been told he does.




But, again, in the movie, she doesn't seem that surprised to see him there. Makes you wonder if she gave him a key. Or if the roommate let him in. After all, Kate does know Grey and knows that they're involved; why wouldn't she let him in? My partner's roommates let me in all the time. Hell, I've had neighbors of partners let me into apartment complexes before. They knew me, knew why I was there; why wouldn't they let me in? Which, again, makes much more sense than having Grey commit criminal activities.




But, to be entirely fair, on closer examination, this sex scene does feel weird. Because she'd just sent him a vague email that sounded like it could have been a break-up. Maybe.


They really needed to talk, not fuck.


Because there certainly is a case to be made for this being murky consent territory. Because, if she was breaking up with him, he should not have just come over. He should definitely not have tried to use sex to change her mind. And he should have never tried to use very domineering sex to get his way. 


That is definitely fucked-up behavior.


However, I don't think that's what happened in the movie.


If you watch her when she types her cryptic message, she's thinking very hard about that message and sends it off in a very wishy-washy, almost playful manner. It felt very much like a what are you gonna do now? kind of dare. Which fits her character's rather calculating, manipulative personality throughout the whole film. It's the same look she has on her face when she chooses jealously not to take Christian's calls after the dinner-with-the-ex fiasco.


Which then makes sense why she's not surprised when he just shows up at her place. And why she gets into the sex immediately, without hesitation or ambivalence. Because she orchestrated this. Because that is exactly what she’d wanted to happen. Exactly what she’d intended to happen. This is just another game to her.




That's how I read that scene, while watching the movie, and, should that be true, I don't think he violated her consent in this moment.


It's still a fucked-up scene; don't get me wrong. But I don't think he violated her consent. He still gets her verbal consent before he does anything sexual to her and her body language implies that she's a happy and active participant.


I don't think this was rape. I do think this was shitty writing. We need to stop portraying women who play hot/cold, I said no or maybe but I mean yes games, which is what this scene feels like. We need to stop it. Now.


No means no. And yes means yes. And our stories need to reflect that much better. Particularly since our real world has a such a hard time understanding this. And the repercussions of that have been horrendous. 


We need to require better from our reality and our fiction. If Ana wants to break up with Christian, she shouldn’t send him a cryptic message. She needs to tell him that she doesn't want to see him anymore. That the relationship is over. In clear and unquestionable terms.


I don't think that people need to explain their reasoning for why they're breaking up with someone. People can break up with anyone for any reason and at any time. And, while it's nice to know the reason, knowing usually won't change anything, so it's best for everyone to just move on as quickly and neatly as possible. But clarity is not too much to ask for. Consent is key and people need to abide by it at all times, but that also means that the consent you give and the consent you don't needs to be clear enough to abide by.


If she wanted to break up with him, she should have told him that the relationship was over. In clear words. Not in a what does that mean? way. But, in the film, she sends him a contextless, out-of-nowhere "It's been nice knowing you" message. Really? What does that mean? That literally begs the question.


And while I don't think he should have shown up at her place unannounced—what? was his email broken at the time? could he not just message her back asking what she meant? how about his phone? couldn't he call her and ask?—a vague comment like that does need clarification.


And, if—as I read it—she just wanted to see what would happen, stop. Just don't. Not ever. I'm kinky; I love games. But this kind of emotional manipulation never works out well for anyone. Just never. 


You want to get your significant other to chase you? You know what works awesome for that, way better than trying to get them to chase you by acting uninterested? Acting interested. Messaging "I've been thinking about you all day and need a change of panties" will get someone running to you just as fast and in a better mood.


My problem with this scene wasn't that it felt like him violating her consent.


My problem is that it felt like murky consent. 


For the love of whatever god you subscribe to, can we just take murky consent off the menu? Forever. It's a shitty game and we need to stop playing it. We need to stop portraying it. We all just need to forget it.


And, again, I'm all for sexy games. I think role play, like D/s, consensual non-consent, age play, and other power-dynamic play, gets a really bad rap. It's perfectly healthy and can be a whole lot of fun. But even—especially—in that kind of role play, clear consent outside of the established scene's parameters is essential. And we need to make that a focus, in and out of fiction.


Grey and Ana need to have a full, drawn-out hashing out over what the fuck that phrase meant. Before clothes come off and long before any kind of sex starts. They need to fully understand where their relationship stands first, because sex sure as hell isn't going to simplify that; it's just going to make it more complicated. It would have been a much better scene if they had talked everything out beforehand. 


Then, if they both are still interested afterward, then they can drag ice cubes down any body part of their choosing. I wish them chilly joy.


Christian Grey, in the movie, feels problematic. In a lot of ways. But he's hardly the monster he is in the book and I think it's unfair to call him abusive. Unwise, awkward, and a little off? Absolutely. But not abusive.


If you want to talk abusive behavior, let’s talk about Ana.


Ana crosses boundaries left and right.


From the start of their relationship, he tells her that he doesn't like to be touched. When he takes off his shirt, she sees that he has scars from past abuse. This isn’t rocket science. And, like I said, Movie Ana never feels dumb. She knows what that means; it’s why she keeps trying to get him to talk about it. But, even knowing what she knows, she keeps trying to touch him anyway and doesn't listen to him when he asks her to stop. She instead pouts about it and throws fits. She yells at him because he won't let her touch him. In fact, she leverages their relationship over this and eventually ends the relationship over it. 


He is allowed to set his own limits. He is allowed and ought to be encouraged to establish how he wants to be touched and what other people can do to his own body. He is the top in this relationship; that doesn't mean that he can't have hard limits or that he isn't allowed to maintain them. He is. And it is unfair of her to push past them for her own benefit.


I get not wanting to be in a relationship where you can’t touch the other person. I wouldn’t want to be in that relationship either. But there are better ways to go about dealing with that. She could gently and caringly encourage him to see a professional counselor about his emotional attachment and intimacy issues. She could tell him that she knows that he’s been through something traumatic and that he’s not yet ready to talk about it with her but, when he is, that she’ll be there for him and that he should talk to someone more qualified than her about it. She doesn’t even make him getting to a better, more healthy place the reason why she’s ready to leave him over this.


This isn’t about him or his issues. It’s about her and hers. It’s about how it makes her feel unwanted and about how it makes her feel shut out. And about how it’s his fault for being damaged. And about how he needs to fix this and be okay with her unwanted touching now—right this second—or she’s gone.


Wow.


Then there’s the moment she hears about his ex—who, yes, is much older than him and did start the relationship with him when he was fifteen, but he maintains that it wasn't abusive; in fact, the relationship lasted six years and they're still on excellent terms and are still friends—yet, with no other evidence than their ages, she calls his ex a child molester and is very disapproving and jealous of the friendship. Again, so much so that when she hears that he's going to dinner with her, Ana refuses to talk to him.


He is allowed to have a past. And he is entitled to the right to decide what his past means to him, to decide how it impacts his present and future. And he’s allowed to have friends and he’s allowed to be friends with his exes.


I’m not a big fan of relationships with huge age gaps. Particularly ones where the age gaps mean those people are in two different stages of life, like a fully grown adult and a fifteen-year-old boy. I would never advocate that kind of relationship because of the likelihood of them being coercive and manipulative and abusive.


But this relationship already happened. He tells her that he wasn’t traumatized by it. It's his story; he gets to decide what his own narrative is without commentary by someone who wasn't there. Ana is his current play partner, not his therapist or the law. Who is she to pass judgement on his past? If she thought that he had been damaged by the relationship, that would be one thing. But then couldn't she kindly and sympathetically urge him to see a professional therapist about it? Instead, rather judgmentally, she insults not only his past partner but also tacitly insulting him, for having been and for still being involved, if just on friendly terms, with a child molester.


It seems incredibly insensitive and presumptuous on her part, particularly considering that nothing in the film even hints that he was in any way damaged by this relationship. In the movie, the damage Christian carries with him seems to always come from the abuse he suffered during childhood and not with his ex. He speaks very fondly of his ex and his experience with her. And still maintains contact. Does that sometimes happen with abuse victims? Yes. But not everyone for whom that happens are abuse victims. Context matters. In fact, the movie seems to hint that his relationship to her and his relationship to kink was a healthy and consensual and possibly even healing experience.


Because, yes, Christian suffered abuse in his childhood. And, yes, he has issues with intimacy and with touch. And kink could be very useful to a person like him. It’s a world of rules. Rules that each person gets to set for themselves and that, once set, are unbreakable.


It makes me wonder if one of those contract stipulations in the movie contract is “The submissive will not touch the Dominant without submitting a clear request as well as receiving express permission from the Dominant.” Maybe that’s why he’s so hung up on making sure he has a contract from every woman he touches (which still felt weird that, aside from Ana, he needed contracts from women before they even so much as kissed. Who does that?). I wouldn’t at all be surprised if that one clause is the real reason he feels so drawn to the formality and finality of kinky contracts.


Because, yeah, as a person who has abuse in her own background, I can tell you that’s incredibly appealing. I, like most people who have some heavy baggage—and like most people who don’t, for that matter—have certain triggers and traps that are specific to me that partners need to be aware of. That require light-stepping and special maneuvering.


For instance, I don’t deal well with yelling. Not even just yelling at me. People aggressively and angrily talking—yelling at a video game or a broken computer or coworker or the guy who cut you off in traffic—it affects me in ways it generally doesn’t for most people. It makes me shut down because that was how I coped when I was young. I hid and I shut down. Because that felt safe in a world that too often didn’t.


It’s not something I’m proud of and it’s not something that affects my life a whole lot. I function perfectly fine. But it’s a deeply carved groove in my psyche that I’ll likely carry with me forever. And partners need to know about that, so they don’t do unintentional harm to me and so that part of me doesn’t do unintentional harm to them.


And most of my partners are awesome about it. Because we’ve talked about that boundary of mine, they’re very careful about not crossing it. And, even if they do—hey, people get mad sometimes; there’s nothing wrong with that—we deal with it. By talking about it. Like adults.


But Ana doesn’t want to deal with Christian’s triggers or deeply carved scars. She just blows right past them and does whatever she wants. And throws an unholy fit when she doesn’t get it.


In the final scene, because he's unable or unwilling to talk to her about his very painful, abusive past, she completely loses it.


One of the things I really like about the movie over the books was that you get to see Ana enjoy kink. You see her gasp with pleasure as he spanks her. You get to see her writhe in ecstasy as he whips and floggers her. You even get to see her get into role playing. She likes their play. She is always an active and willing participant. Undeniably. Unquestionably.


Until the last Red Room scene. Where, after he rebuffs her advances, she hurls all these hurtful questions at him about why he needs kink in his life. Why he can’t just be normal. Why he needs to punish her. And, like some back-stabbing Judas, she claims she doesn’t like the play they’ve done. That she hates it.


She even goes so far as to say the way he feels about her unwanted and hard-limited touching, that’s how she feels about the kink they consensually did together. For someone who has experienced and survived abuse, that's the worst thing you could say to them. Because everyone knows the facts about how often children of abuse go on to repeat the cycle and become abusers. And that's a fear too many of us carry with us all the time.


Now imagine being a kinky top and trying to deal with that accusation. Especially when you seem to have done your due diligence to not abuse by learning and using SSC rules and tools like safewords and checklists and negotiations. When you've done what you can to be the opposite of the abuse you suffered.


To have that thrown back in your face...


That’s unforgivably cruel.


If I were Grey, I would have told her to get the fuck out of my house and that I never want to see her again. And I wish he had.


And he should have. Not just because she's literally asking him to cross her limits but, by asking that, she's crossing his. Like I said, tops are allowed to have feelings and opinions and say in their play too. They have just as much right to call scenes because the play is making them uncomfortable as the bottom is. And, in that moment, he was uncomfortable. He was being placed in the vulnerable position. And he should have called the scene.


But his partner was demanding that he punish her. To hit her as hard as he can. He checks in with her, asks her if she’s sure. Again, obtaining clear consent when she says that she is, that she needs to know what the worst of it will be like in order to continue.


So they go to the Red Room and he does beat her. Hard? Yes. But I'm a primarily sensation- and impact-play kinkster and, from what I saw, he doesn't hit her hard enough to break skin or do lasting damage. But it's true that she does cry. And it is disturbing to watch. Because he clearly doesn’t want this to be happening. He is horrified by what’s happening. And she clearly doesn’t like what’s happening either but she’s forcing him to be what she wants him to be—needs him to be—in that moment: an abusive monster, so she can be the victim. So she can be the better person. So she can tell him how horrible he is. And how messed up he is.


She does this to humiliate him. To tear him down.


So she can feel righteous when she walks away and he can feel like the lowest of the low. So she doesn’t have to be the bad guy.


It’s deliberate.


It’s cold.


It’s sadistically cruel in the worst of ways.


The only saving grace was that the film seems to be completely self-aware of all this. It's as if the people working on the film looked at the books and their critiques and did their best to use the material they had to work with and did what they could fix the film.


I love that this film managed to take a book that portrayed a frighteningly abusive monster and his dowdy, ignorant victim and turned it into a pretty average guy with more money than sense and his emotionally abusive girlfriend. I’m not willing to say it was a good movie, but that's kind of amazing.


And, I'm sorry, if Grey were a vanilla woman and Ana a kinky guy, I feel like more people would have seen the red flags Ana was flying. But too many people walked in with a review already in their heads and didn't seem to be watching the same movie I was. I don't use the word often, but Ana's behavior was triggering. It's been hours since the I've left the theater and I'm still physically shaken by the things she said and did and, what's worse, no one else even seems to notice.


Which I find horrible but fascinating, considering the reaction people have been having to the books and to just the knowledge that the movies were coming. Everyone was ON-BOARD with hating on Grey. And I'm all for it with Book Grey; he deserves it.


But too many people were doing so without knowing anything about the books or the movie or kink.


I'm not okay with that.


I actually really like that the movie flipped that shitty Domism expectation that all tops are abusive and all bottoms are victims, that tops hold all the control and the bottoms hold none, and managed, through direction and clever adaptation, to make her a monster and made him fairly normal. 


And he is far more normal than anyone, including himself, is capable of seeing. While reading the books, I’d taken issue with James making such an effort to point out that Grey isn’t a sadist when he clearly, given his playroom, is. But, while watching the film, I understood. Grey isn’t as experienced with kink as he’s presented to be in the books. He just isn’t. He doesn’t have a full grasp of the terminology we use. He doesn’t seem to have a complete understanding of how our relationships work and what red flags to look for. He seems deeply conflicted and ashamed of his own kinks, denying them and calling them “not normal.”


I’ve said it before but, partly because of my past experiences with abuse, it took me a very long time to identify as a masochist. It’s a title that still sits a little awkwardly with me because of what that identity means to other people when they hear it. Before I really knew what the terms meant and really thought about what it meant in this very context-specific and context-driven world and what it meant to me, I didn’t want to associate with a term that felt too much like being abused, damaged goods incapable and unworthy of love.


Christian feels like he’s in that same place with the word “sadist” and with his kinks in general. He could benefit from researching kink more and some real soul searching. And therapy and a community. He needs the space and the language and the people to cement the idea that he’s okay. That, at least in his film version, he's normal.


I know the next movies won't be that, but that's a movie I would happily pay money to see.


And as for Ana, everyone keeps belaboring the point that this is her first sexual and kink relationship. And, yeah, it’s not ideal. But, unlike the books, it never feels like he's fetishizing her virginity. In the film, he doesn’t know that she’s a virgin when he begins perusing her. He is surprised when he finds out.


What should he have done in this moment then, knowing that they both are interested in having a relationship together? Should he have told her to leave when he learned that? Is being a twenty-something virgin a disqualifier from a sexual relationship? Really?


In the same way Grey is entitled to his past and to decide how it affects his present and future, so is she. And she doesn’t seem damaged by her virginity, like she does in the books—despite the comment about rectifying that condition. The movie, unlike the books, also doesn't make it seem like she hasn't dated before either. We actually don't get much about Ana's dating history beyond knowing that she is a virgin and doesn't know much about non-traditional, more adventurous sex. The film never makes it seem like she’s a virgin because she experienced trauma or was forced into or is all that troubled by her virginity. Her sexual history seems to just be a part of her, part of her history. Not even that strange of one since twenty-two isn’t an uncommon age to be a virgin. It’s also not an uncommon age for people to discover their kinks. Often because they begin to date people who have kinks.


The circumstances, again, might not be ideal, but they aren’t automatically abusive. Everyone has to start somewhere. And she’s encouraged by Grey to learn about kink. He gives her the necessary tools to take care of herself. She’s constantly being shown asking questions about kink, to which they discuss answers. They explore it slowly and in fun ways that are set to her pace and to her benefit. 


In fact, their very first sex scene is very sensual, soft, gentle, and incredibly vanilla. Their first scene in the playroom starts with supplication positions and extremely light play. And, until that final scene, she seems to enjoy every bit of it.


That is informed consent. Her virginity shouldn't change that.


And neither should Grey’s more promiscuous past. As far as we know, Grey has had at least sixteen other partners. So? What does it matter that he has more experience than she does? That’s how most kink relationships—and vanilla relationships, for that matter—work. It’s extremely rare for two individuals to have the exact same set of experiences. And usually someone in the relationship has more experience than the other. That doesn’t make them abusive. That makes them normal. How that manifests determines whether it’s abusive or not. Whether the more experienced partner uses that experience against the other partner determines abuse. In the movie, Grey never seems to. In fact, I think he deserves credit for not holding her innocence against her while showing her the ropes.


Now, understand, I'm not willing to say I liked the film. It wasn’t good. Like many people have been saying, it’s a boring film. It had no real plot to speak of, felt far more like an ungodly long slice-of-life vignette than a story. The sets were visually pretty but a little too glossy, perfect, Vanity Fair cover-style for me; they looked unlived in and unrealistic. The dialogue was mostly average. The acting was sub-par. It was...boring, when looked at as a movie and a story.


But I kinda like that it was boring. It was boring because it was portraying as realistic a depiction of kink as the source material would allow. It showed them meeting each other’s families and going on dates and going about their extravagantly furnished if still pretty banal lives. And, let’s face it, realistic relationships are boring to watch. Even kinky ones.


Because real kinksters aren't plot devices. We aren't anyone's entertainment fodder. We aren't a circus act here to perform for you. We have as normal lives as anyone else. And the movie makes it blandly plain that that’s true. It hits you over the head with the fact that kinky people are just like everyone else. Grey’s kink was not enough to build a tellable story on.


In fact, I think the movie uses its banality to make interesting comments on the similarities of kinky and vanilla relationships. There is a scene that seems completely useless where Ana and her mom and stepfather are having dinner. They’re eating gazpacho soup and carrots. The stepfather complains that he doesn’t understand why he has to be eating this food that is not what he wants or would pick for himself. But the mother tells him that they’re trying to be more health-conscious and that it’s for his own good.


One partner deciding what the other will be eating. 


Sound familiar?


It’s not a condition I would enjoy or even agree to on its face. But, yeah, my eating habits change depending on the person I’m dating—currently, I eat way more ice cream and McDonald’s than I did before; not that I’m complaining. Because you tend to eat together a lot. This happens in vanilla relationships all the time and no one screams abuse.


It might be a ridiculous clause to put in a contract but, on closer examination in context of the film, it’s not all that ridiculous of a request. Especially since Christian doesn’t seem to restrict her diet in unhealthy ways. Unlike in Secretary (which is a far better film, but far from SSC), where Mr. Grey gives Lee strange food restrictions like “one scoop of creamed potatoes, four peas, and all the ice cream you can eat.” But, again, so long as she consents—which Lee enthusiastically does—what business is it of anyone else? She doesn’t seem to suffer unhealthy damages due to it. I’m assuming that they don’t play this game with every meal—after all, he lets her have a very hearty sandwich for lunch at work, so she’s hardly malnourished—so who cares? What business is it of anyone else but the two engaged in the relationship? The only people who agreed to and are affected by the terms?


Vanilla people make all kinds of demands on their vanilla partners. And vanilla people often agree to all kinds of demands. Sometimes, just to keep the peace and not really because they want to. So why do we judge kinky people so harshly for things vanilla people do everyday?


The film doesn’t even say that Ana doesn’t want to be doing this. In fact, until the end scene, we never get any kind of hint that she isn’t enjoying the hell out of their play. If anything, after their first spanking scene, he walks out after four or five light taps and she wonders why and is upset by the fact that he stopped. Which is understandable. It was weird that he stopped. And they never really deal with it. It felt like scenes in vanilla films where couples make-out, but then someone stops right before sex and walks away without any explanation. It’s abrupt and off-putting.


But, again, not abusive. Too many people are saying that this is a clear case of him not doing proper after care. I don’t know, call me crazy but, while I think a conversation about what happened and why he left so suddenly should have happened at some point, after care after a few taps to the butt... It’s not the best, most ethical form, but it’s not the worst either. 


Not for nothing but, again, many of our highly held stories don’t have after care as well. Secretary’s Mr. Grey rarely does after care, really only doing it at the end of the film (where it’s done beautifully, but is done a little late).


The movie's worst crime was that it was boring as a story. But its greatest credit was that it took an offensive steaming pile of words and turned it into a boring film, but a fascinating social critique. I may not have liked the movie, but I like that it exists. Which is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more than I can say for the books.


I didn't—just couldn't for my own sanity—get through the books, but the books and the movie seem to be two very different things. Part of that is, like I said, because we're getting a much more reliable narration now that we're not stuck in Ana's—as by extension James's—thoroughly vapid head. It really says something about the direction of the film that they could take a horrifically written character and make him bland and nitpickingly non-controversial.


And, again, I find it rather amazing—in a disheartening, disturbing way—that they made the girl who was powerless and without control or agency in the book calculatedly manipulative and abusive in the movie. She's in absolute control the entire way through. She's sassy and quippy—I swear to god, there are points where she’s actually funny—and knows exactly what she's doing the entire way through. She opts in and opts out when she likes. She makes fully consensual and informed decisions.


The movie may have been boring as hell. But it's a fascinating social critique that everyone is still calling Grey abusive and Ana a victim in the film when the movie goes out of its way to show that the opposite is true. 


In an earlier post, I’d called the actors “offensively vanilla” for the extremely kink-negative things they said to the press. And I stand by that wholeheartedly. Jamie Dornan and his castmate can fuck themselves for the things they said. I’d titled this post “Abusively Vanilla” for many of the same reasons.


Movie Ana isn’t stupid. She got into this relationship with her eyes open. She knew what he wanted. Knew what he was asking of her. Knew what all that meant. And entered the relationship anyway. Then, when the romance doesn’t go the way she wants, she uses the kink they consensually did as a stick to psychologically beat him with.


I have nothing against vanilla people. I think that, if I’m asking for the right to pursue the desires I want without undue judgement, I can’t in good conscience judge other people for theirs. But, in the same way Jamie Dornan metaphorically spat on the kinksters who let him in on the secret parts of their lives, Movie Ana does the same to Movie Christian. Only much, much, much worse.


Dan Savage often talks about the Campsite Rule, which talks about leaving partners of an ending relationship in better shape than you found them. And, like my rant about Adoribull, this feels like people forming opinions based on their preconceived notions rather than the story that is actually there.


People trash-talking the movie, saying Grey is abusive, need to learn about abuse. Specifically, about what makes abuse different than kink. Because they completely missed the undeniable fact that, according to what the film gives us, Ana is an abuser, not Grey.


2 comments:

  1. The director made some very smart decisions about what details to show and what to leave out. The movie doesn't tell us how Christian found out where Ana worked, how he figured out what bar she was at, or how he got his hands on her flight information (he upgraded her to first class without telling her, btw). We don't get the weird scene where he brings in a gynecologist to give her a Depo shot. We don't get much of the jealousy he has for Jose aside from a fleeting mention of him. Movie Chrisitan comes off as kinda weird and a little bit creepy. It's like they turned the creep-o-meter dial down from 10 to maybe a 3.

    But they didn't really give Ana the same sort of treatment. Sure, they made her sassier and less of a blundering idiot, but Movie Ana comes across as being even more jealous than Christian, irrational, and manipulative. Christian may have pushed Jose away when he was trying to cop a feel at the club, but other than that one moment, he doesn't seem threatened by his existence. Ana is the jealous one, in that she refused to even talk to him after she learned he was having dinner with "Mrs Robinson."

    I find the whole reversal of creepiness to be kind of hilarious. The movie still sucked, but not as much as I expected.

    I read all of that. I demand now that you give me a cookie.

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    1. I'll give you a cookie next time I see you, I promise. You've more than earned it.

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