|Posted on February 16, 2015 at 5:15 PM|
Yep, I went to see the movie. I know many people who are boycotting it for several reasons, on both sides of the controversial divide. The books have been torn to shreds by both feminists who do not understand or accept BDSM, and by kinksters who feel that the story misrepresents them and what they do. Both sides have some good points, but both twist and exaggerate other things in ways that are ultimately misleading. I wanted to see it, primarily for professional reasons, since I offer coaching to kinky folk and consultation to other professionals who may also be working with those in the BDSM community or vanilla people who become intrigued and want to dive in without enough information. But I had also read the books and was curious on a personal level.
So there I was, sitting in the theater with my husband and with five of our kinky friends, waiting to see the movie most in the kink community have been dreading. Most of our crowd hadn’t even read the books because they’d heard they were so bad. One of the friends with us was also attending for professional reasons, because she is a student therapist. The rest of the audience that had shown up for the 9pm Friday night (opening night) showing only filled half the theater, at most. Throughout the flick, I was surprised by how much chatter and derisive laughter floated up from the entire audience. Some people seemed to genuinely want to see it, though, as they hollered for others to be quiet. And I was a bit surprised to see camera flashes go off during some of the more provocative scenes. It almost felt like I was sitting in the theater with a crowd that’s accustomed to the interactive nature of Rocky Horror showings.
So now I must delve into reviewing the nature of the flick itself, not just the audience who showed up with me, curious enough to stand in line for 15 minutes before the theater would allow us to file in and find seats. I find myself somewhat reluctant to do so. My reticence comes from the fact that in order to keep integrity with myself, I must admit to all of you that I think BOTH sides of the controversy around this movie have exaggerated their points. Let me be clear about something here, though - this review is strictly about the movie, NOT the book. The movie deliberately cut out a lot of Anastasia’s internal chatter, which means that much of what the feminist critics were decrying and labeling domestic abuse is not present in the movie itself.
The movie, on the other hand, did a pretty good job of showing how important consent is in the BDSM lifestyle. Ana was repeatedly asked by Christian if she agreed to something, and he did reveal his playroom and let her fondle many of the implements there before engaging in a scene with her. He did ask her to review a very detailed contract which included seeking her consent on a number of specific behaviors and actions. The movie producers made a point of showing that Christian struck from the contract the things that Ana refused to agree to. The movie showed him asking her to do some research on some aspects of the contract, and it demonstrated them having a negotiation about the contract and the relationship they were developing.
Unfortunately, the movie also showed Christian engaging in some passive-aggressive and emotionally manipulative behaviors, which influenced Ana’s decisions regarding the relationship and what she was consenting to. The characters in this story are both very human and both made mistakes. Codependence is a two-way street that many, MANY people fall prey to in their relationships. It’s prevalent enough in the BDSM community that I give a class called, “Kinky & Codependent,” in which I help participants learn to differentiate between healthy Dominance/submission and unhealthy codependence. But so many people suffer from this, both in and out of the kink community.
The final scene in the movie, in which [SPOILER ALERT] Ana demands that Christian show her “just how bad it can really be,” and Christian delivers six very hard strikes with a belt to her backside -- this is also an example of two people making egregious mistakes. Both deserve some of the blame for how badly that went. Christian, as the top/dom, should have known better than to allow himself to be baited into doing something like this, while Ana was clearly setting him up and further damaged the trust between them by not calling her safe word when it became apparent that this was indeed over her line.
Lack of Experience or Education...Bad
It’s important to remember that these two characters are incredibly inexperienced in interpersonal relationships. Ana is a complete virgin who has apparently never even touched herself, let alone allow anyone else to touch her erotically. She has never been in a romantic relationship and her parents are not very good role models. Christian was made the submissive of an older woman when he was only 15 years old and stayed in that relationship for six years. He only ever had D/s relationships in which he was the dominant for the next six years before meeting Ana, and he told her he’d never been romantic with anyone. So here are two people who are absolutely clueless about how to communicate, how to self-reflect, how to express boundaries in clear and healthy and respectful ways, and they’re trying to make a D/s relationship work, which requires so many more interpersonal skills than either of them possess. No wonder they hurt each other!
The biggest problem with “50 Shades of Grey” is that it blurs so many lines. Instead of distinct gradations of a non-descript color, this movie instead depicts many things as the same shade. For instance, there is a difference between a top, a master, a dominant, and a sadist - but Christian doesn’t explain these differences and may not even understand them himself. Another example - BDSM is not domestic abuse and those in the lifestyle do not condone stalking, but in this movie, Christian engages in both of these, but since he is also ostensibly a kinkster, vanilla audiences may interpret ALL of his behavior to be acceptable by the BDSM community. This leads vanilla people (especially feminists) to feel revulsion for kinky folk, and outrage toward the men or toward the dominants in the lifestyle for taking advantage of naive, gullible girls/women/submissives.
Let’s Get Real, Abuse is Possible and Present in ALL Communities
Yes, there IS abuse in the BDSM community and in some D/s relationships. Just as there is abuse in many vanilla, heteronormative relationships. Yes, there are people in the BDSM community who have suffered abuse in their past. Just as there are many, many survivors of abuse and trauma in the vanilla, heteronormative population. Yes, people make bad decisions and engage in questionable consent-seeking behaviors...in ALL populations. These things are true, no matter what subculture you hail from. The greater society in which we live (in the U.S.) is very tolerant of violence, rape, and codependence. Most people do not receive adequate (or any) training in interpersonal relationship establishment or maintenance. Most people are not well versed in how to negotiate consent, how to ask for what they want, how to enjoy pleasure, how to draw their boundaries (or even know where those boundaries should be). Most don’t understand that the absence of a “no” is NOT a “yes.”
Let’s Use the Movie as a Starting Point
This movie doesn’t necessarily condone any of the negative relationship behaviors that Christian (and Ana) engage in, but it does reflect the negative society in which they have been raised. Other than the barely believable facts that he is a self-made 20-something billionaire and she is a complete virgin at 20-something, these characters represent aspects of ourselves that we recognize and can identify with, though some don’t wish to acknowledge these mirror images for what they are and so rail against them. But we can use this movie as a starting point for so many conversations, not only about BDSM, but about desire, about pleasure, about consent, about negotiation, about communication, about codependence, about fantasy, about romance, about intimacy, about what’s healthy, about experimentation, about abuse, and about what we can do to teach our children so that they can be more healthy, functional adults who are empowered to negotiate their own sex lives and relationships with honor, grace, integrity, and passion!