Friday, February 6, 2015

Why I'll Be Watching "Fifty Shades"

One might think that I’d be avoiding the motion picture version of Fifty Shades of Grey with some ambivalence. On the one hand, the response of many in the BDSM/kink/fetish community has been to dismiss it as “trash”, either because that’s how they see the book, or because they expect Hollywood to misrepresent us, or a combination of both. On the other hand, there are Unitarian Universalists like myself who are at least curious about this, and avoidance is the least likely way to satisfy one’s curiosity.

The fact is that I had long ago planned to see the movie. I already acquired a ticket via Fandango for an early showing here in Boston, and scouted out the area around the theatre for restaurants.

But I’m not going for the reasons many people might think.

Yes, I’m overly critical of this franchise. There are books and films which represent kink far better, and with greater artistry. The trailers I’ve seen so far do not inspire me much, especially the acting of Jamie Dornan.

For me, it’s a question of fairness. My personal experience has taught me to mistrust anyone who critiques something – whether it’s artistic, scientific, or simply the reality of another’s life – without striving to know about it first. It’s that commitment which led me to Unitarian Universalism, especially the principle of a free and responsible search for meaning and truth, with an emphasis on the responsible.

Already there is a movement to urge a boycott, even before the movie has been shown. There is a presumption about its “message”, and about BDSM generally. I admit being critical of how Fifty Shades misrepresents BDSM, but that’s a far cry from presumptively denouncing the film from a similarly superficial understanding that sees any representation of BDSM as inherently bad.

Aside from being a UU and a kinkster, I consider myself a movie buff, almost a “cinematic anthropologist”. Motion pictures are a major sources of narrative for our culture, perhaps even displacing the printed word. Given that the book is written primarily in the first person, and with a great deal of internal dialogue on the part of Anastasia, I’d expect the film version to present this story very differently. Not to mention the tendency of screenwriters, directors and actors to put their own mark on any work in which they are involved.

I’m not saying that I expect the film to be better than the book. Truth be told, I admit to being skeptical about that. But before I say either way, I’d need to know more. And given the impact Fifty Shades has already had on the kink community to which I belong, the sooner the better.


  1. Interesting thoughts, Desmond. I think for me part of why I can't bring myself to see the movie after having read the books- I wanted to be able to critique them based on what was in them, not what I thought was in them- is that I already feel such stress as a UU woman who is also a BDSM submissive; I feel called upon to explain and justify myself too much as it is. I admit to being intrigued how the movie will be shaped given how much internal dialogue with Ana is given; however I can't bring myself to spend the money. I'm leaning towards the price of the ticket given in donation to the UUSC, the CLF maybe :D

  2. Thanks, Joelle. Everyone has their own reasons for why they will or won't watch this film, and there's no wrong or right answer.

    I agree, the bulk of internal narrative in the book means the film would have to take a different approach. But I get the feeling that there will be more significant changes as well.

    Well, hopefully by Friday morning I'll have a review posted here ...

    1. Given the half-comments I've seen of the director and the author disagreeing openly on social media, I'm wondering at the movie... of course :D I still refuse to spend any of my Master's movie on that just now... maybe I'll buy Him a steak to enjoy on Valentine's Day