Fifty Shades of Self-Loathing

Fifty Shades of Self-Loathing February 5, 2015


I have absolutely zero intention of talking about the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey movie. However, when I saw Ross Douthat retweet this piece from Gawker on the film’s “disastrous” publicity tour, I couldn’t help myself. Kelly Conaboy’s coverage of the promotional interviews given by the movie’s stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan is…well, I don’t even know what to call it. Revealing? Bizarre? Sad? Predictable? Maybe all of the above.

It appears that Johnson and Dornan are not in love. Actually, they don’t even like each other, and by “like” I mean “tolerate.” Conaboy notes that their mutual antipathy is so obvious that it seeps through even when the two are asked basic questions about themselves or their characters. She reports on one particularly painful interview:

They struggle to name anything they have in common with their characters. They struggle more to come up with three positive words to describe one another, and they are visibly upset with each other’s choices. The Q&A is a capsule representing the entirety of the 50 Shades press tour: awkward, tense, and astoundingly bad at selling the movie, from beginning to listless end.

In another interview, the actors cannot even pretend to have enjoyed working together:

Natalie Morales: What is it like shooting together. I mean, is there that instant chemistry?
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson: [Shake heads no.]
Natalie Morales: No. You hate each other.
Jamie Dornan [Nods head yes.]
Dakota Johnson: [Studies ceiling.]
Natalie Morales: He’s hard to work with?
Dakota Johnson: [Loud exhale.]

How do the actors feel about their movie? Not much better. Johnson says she doesn’t want her family to see it. Dornan says he was often uncomfortable playing his part. “I had to do stuff to [Dakota Johnson] that I would never choose to do to a woman,” he says, adding: “I’m a dad.” Dornan tells one interviewer that he went to a “sex dungeon” in preparation for his role, and that when he came home afterwards he was careful to shower before touching his wife and infant child. Asked about Fifty Shades of Grey’s popularity, Dornan provides the article’s money quote:

“Mass appreciation doesn’t always equate to something good. Think of Hitler! But I think, in this case, it must. It simply must.”

Does that sound like a man who is proud of the movie he’s made?

To me, both Dornan and Johnson sound like actors who deeply regret signing on to make this film. They resent each other and seem to be struggling with a sense of shame over their roles. The highest praise either person can give to their film is that it has lots of sex that should please its many fans. But as Dornan admits, some of the worst things in this world have had plenty of adoring fans. That doesn’t sound like the kind of thing an actor says while promoting his movie unless he needs to say it. Is he trying to absolve himself?

Self-loathing is a prominent feature of pornography. Porn demands justification but never rewards those efforts with peace. That may or may not be what these actors are feeling, but to be honest, I hope it is. If two attractive, wealthy profiteers of porn were to be transparent about the scarring effects of participating in it, many who are trapped at Eros’s altar might get courage to flee. The Cross of Jesus is proof that God loves to turn the darkness against itself.


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