[Spoilers- don’t read if you plan to watch and don’t want spoilers]
What did I expect? A love story? A kink story? It turns out that “50 Shades Darker” is neither. There are some well-directed very soft porn scenes – or as Ana (Dakota Johnson) calls it- “Kinky fuckery” so mommy and the lots of teens watching the movie (and gasping and giggling non-stop) do get their vanilla version of BDSM. I won’t even address (for now) how problematic this Cinderella BDSM fantasy is. Let’s focus on the film.
The story, again, is ludicrous. Ana had left Mr. Grey (Jamie Dornan) whom she now calls Christian in an act of defiance and as her way of helping Mr. Grey find his humanity. Yes, she is the real savior in the film. How conservative. From the Flinstones to Everybody Loves Raymond, men are in need of a woman to guide them, to complete them, and even save them from their own stupidity.
Of course, she left after asking him to show her what he does to submissives. And now, Ana, who was a virgin before falling in love with Mr. Grey and getting some serious top of the shelf sex, is, of course, thriving.
Let me pause for a second here- she goes from no relationship ever to something so intense she feels intoxicated all the time. And just like that she breaks up with him and instead of being devastated she is living her life and doing incredibly well. Hum, maybe Mr. grey is not the real cold manipulative shell of a human being in this story. Or maybe this is just terrible writing.
Not only is Ana thriving but she seems to attract every man she meets. Of course, they are all bad men or incomparable to Christian- lesser beings who are condemned to live forever in the dreaded friend zone.
Ana and Christian get back together so quickly (kinky fuckery plays a role here) that you are left wondering- “wait, what, wtf Ana I thought you had a legitimate reason not to get back with Christian.”
Back they are, with no rules and no punishments, what Ana calls a “vanilla relationship.” But right off the bat Christian acts as his possessive (not truly Dominant) self. Ana seems to like it- especially because she now gets him to compromise. Moreover, she is the one pushing the envelope throughout the film- she even walks into the play room and asks for toys. Grey makes sure that she knows what she is getting into it. At least they get this part of BDSM right- safety and consent.
And this is the film- back together, sex, bad boss put in his place, sex, move in together, sex, boat ride, sex, he pops the question, sex, he almost dies in accident, sex, “yes I will marry you, sex, fireworks (seriously), enemies lurking.
I knew the film would not be great but I really hoped that given the intricate nature of BDSM they would be able to come up with something more enjoyable.
As I wrote in my first blog on this trilogy- Christian is not really a Dominant but a sadist. He admits this to Ana, “he gets off” inflicting pain. He has never rewarded his subs- he has punished them. This is not about semantics but about attitude. The role of the Dom, even when administering a “punishment,” is to reward his/her sub for willingly submitting to him/her, for surrendering his/her power to him/her. This is what the dynamic and the play is all about. In a true M/s dynamic, the sub holds the power. Only then can he/she submit freely. But the film misses this point completely.
He is not the only one at fault in their dynamic. Ana wants to be with a Christian who does not exist. She wants to change him- and there is a lot that is terribly wrong with him- including his mommy issues. But she wants to change his core. Call me a romantic, but this is not love. You can’t change people for you to accept them.
The film, in many ways, demonizes the BDSM world. Christian’s former Mistress, Elena (Kim Basinger), plays the villain. But she seems to be the only one who accepts him for who he really is.
The film’s best scene- and what should’ve been its climax (wink), is quickly brushed aside. Christian former sub, Leila (Bella Heathcote), has gone crazy and stalks Ana. She finds her way into Ana’s apartment and points a gun at her. She shoots. Christian comes in and with a hand gesture gets Leila to point the gun at him and surrender it. He then commands “kneel!” She complies, he moves next to her and caresses her hair like you would do to a dog. Ana freaks out and spends hours walking in the city.
If there ever was a breach of trust this was it. Leila’s complete submission is presented in the worst possible light. In fact, everything that is real about the BDSM world is presented this way.
The message of the movie seems to be- “We can have all the kink but keep it Vanilla.” Yeah, I know. It gets worse. Ana does not use “Sir” or “Master” but in every aspect- even when she is changing and defying Christian- she is a slave. She is a slave to his lifestyle and to his controlling nature. Ironically, Christian’s control seems to work only outside their romantic and sexual relationship. Apparently, they didn’t read the BDSM Manual.
I wonder how many of the teens and moms present at the theater will try to find a Master to change and save? And this is what “50 Shades” does. It tells women (make no mistake- the film is a total chick flick- and I thought I would never use this term-ha!) that they can find a Mr. Grey to reform, to save. And in this sense, the film turns BDSM from a lifestyle of sexual liberation, complete trust and openness, into a conservative Vanilla and Cinderella story.