When you go to the cinema in the Netherlands there’s usually an intermission halfway through the movie. As we were standing in the queue to get some popcorn and soft drinks I realised that up till then, Ana and Christian had done almost nothing except negotiate about consent. Half of the movie was about making sure the other person was okay with doing what they were going to do!
I loved this movie.
I’m not saying 50 Shades of Grey is an exquisite piece of art or an intelligent critique of some cultural relevant whatever. It was just a sweet movie, the standard romantic plot where the powerful man falls for the average girl, mixed with some sexy kink. I loved the fuzzy hairs on her legs, the details of her biting her lip or playing with her coffee cup, how awkward and non-perfect their communication was. The part where they had their ‘business meeting’ about the BDSM contract was lovely. It really showed how much fun negotiation often is, that talking about sex is sexy, how power dynamics (she was in charge) can be electric.
People call it 50 shades of abuse, and I get that. He puts pressure on her, prevents her from talking about their relationship with other people, is jealous and possessive, tends to overstep boundaries, gives her gifts when she tells him not to. People oppose 50 shades because they believe it normalises unhealthy behaviour. But I actually think that consent is relatively well negotiated in this movie. Have you ever noticed how Rick and Shane treat Lori in The Walking Dead? How, in fact, women are treated by their partners in almost every movie and television show? In 50 Shades, consent is continually checked, verbalised, negotiated, so much better than in any other mainstream movie.
The only part that I considered almost-abusive and that actually upset me a little was at the end (spoiler alert). In the BDSM culture, aftercare is a big thing. After a session you can feel a little raw, you’ve been completely vulnerable with each other and can need some emotional support from your partner. So Anastasia asks Christian to show her what it really is that he desires, that she needs to experience it so that she can understand, to punish her as he wants. He ties her down, tells her exactly what he intends to do, he hits her six times, shares that part of himself that he keeps hidden from almost everyone, and then she freaks the fuck out. Because it was more than she wanted, but she didn’t safeword, and he didn’t know (could not know) he went too far.
“Is this really how you want to see me?!” she cries and my heart just breaks for him. Of course that’s not what he wants, he doesn’t desire her stepping over her hard limits! She shuts him out completely, tells him to go away and dumps him the next day. That was just so horrible, so unkind. Not safewording when you should is something that can happen, and it’s emotionally upsetting, but own your emotions and don’t dump them on him. It’s fine if you find out your tastes are incompatible and you need to break up, but not like that. Not after explicitly asking someone to do something, and then freaking out because they do what you ask them to do. I missed support, some understanding and kindness. She was just horrible to him and that was not okay.
But even feel-good movies need some drama, and all in all I loved this sweet, kinky story.