Should you boycott 50 Shades of Grey?(Spoilers and Trigger Warning)

Should you boycott 50 Shades of Grey?(Spoilers and Trigger Warning) February 13, 2015

I admit I couldn’t make it through the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy for many of the reasons already widely discussed in the BDSM community. The books also blur consent lines and the line between sexual role playing and emotional and physical abuse.

Who has to hold another person's face to dominate their attention?
Who has to hold another person’s face to dominate their attention?

It is even possible to make a case that the plot isn’t centered on writing good erotica, and is instead telling the story of a man’s recovery from horrific childhood abuse through the love of a caring woman. However that would make the plot even more boring and predictable than the sex scenes.

The writing is so bad that it can be lampooned by simply reading it aloud. This video of Gilbert Gottfried’s reading is more entertaining to me than reading the book. There are many more reasons that a person might not want to invest their time in reading the books, but what about the movie?

The movie could have gone the route of Exit to Eden which was loosely adapted from Anne Rampling’s (Anne Rice) novel of the same name. They could have used comic relief to make the novel’s absurdities look intentional. Not that Exit to Eden novel equaled 50 Shades of Grey in unintended absurdity. Porn has a well worn history of filming sex in a deliberately over the top manner that is puerile and comes off as tacky and demeaning to the actors.

In porn, playing up on the cliches of sex with juvenile humor doesn’t make the plot any less cliched and dull. In fact porn often has cheap knock off titles of popular movies. How creative and interesting can a movie be with titles like A Beautiful Behind or the similarly titled A Beautiful Hind? 

It is true that most porn doesn’t often aspire  to good storytelling, but erotica like 50 Shades can. And of course the novel failed spectacularly to tell a good story. One might think that the screenwriters would have noticed the plethora of criticism, and address that in the screenplay. But alas, the movie is faithful to the book.

This line: “I don’t make love. I fuck and I fuck hard.” Unsurprisingly, the line is just as unconvincing to deliver on screen as it is in the book. It actually got a few laughs from the audience.  The unintended humor may be a reason to check out the movie, but even that can’t justify the unintended torture of viewing it.

Before the movie, I remember sitting in the car with my husband and telling him we may just be right back out here in 25 minutes leaving the movie disgusted. We had very low expectations. The best we hoped for was that it would be unintentionally funny. What sold us on going is that Catholic Church was asking people to boycott the film. That is a selling point to irreligious people like us.

Archbishop Dennis Schnurr recently sent a letter to priests describing the movie as “a direct assault on Christian marriage” and urging pastors to speak out against it to their congregations.

“We need to inform our people about the destructive message of this movie and to highlight the beauty of God’s design for loving relationships between a husband and wife”

The Archbishop unintentionally sweetens the pot for nonbelievers and former Catholics like me with the laughable statement that god has a design for loving relationships. Anyone who has ever been whipped by a nun as I have to instill the fear of the Catholic god can tell you that their god is an abusive master. Moreover, former Catholics can tell you even from childhood; sex is portrayed as evil and sinful. I actually had to offload a bunch of Catholic messaging about the evils of masturbation and being the bride of Christ to have a loving, sexual relationship with my husband. Nothing like being accused of the original sin of Eve to start off a lifelong struggle with Madonna syndrome.

So it is normally counter-intuitive for me to agree with them about anything especially sexual relationships. Still even checking it out for yourself isn’t a good reason to see it especially if you struggled through the craptastic book.  The film stays true to the book. So, the elements of physical and emotional abuse are still there. If the Catholic Church was right about one thing it is that it is a better idea to donate to a battered woman’s shelter than go to the movie.

Which brings me to the most important heads up I’d like to impart if you are considering going to the movie. Does the abuse in this movie reach the point that it would trigger domestic abuse survivors and victims? Yes it does for the same reasons the books do.

Ana is completely naive about adult relationships as she is a virgin. Christian warns her, but he still capitalizes on her naivete making her easier to control and abuse. She is like an unstamped coin; it is all to easy for Christian to make his mark on her. He easily overpowers her protests about him tracking down her whereabouts, and punch a guy he is jealous of for trying to kiss her.

Likewise, he stalks and follows her to another state where she is visiting her mother, because he doesn’t want to lose control of her. He constantly nags her about her inability to consume alcohol, and prohibits her from drinking where he can’t control the situation. He shows up in Georgia just in time to scold her for having two drinks. This is a tactic of emotionally abusive people to undermine autonomy and create dependence. Dependent people are easier to abuse.

There is actual physical abuse too. He spanks her twice in the movie for reasons that aren’t related to sexual pleasure. She plays a naive game of provoking him, so that he will become aroused to spank her. It almost reminds me of the sickeningly perverse Christian Domestic Discipline movement that infantilizes grown women.

The most chilling abuse is when he tries to explain why he has a need to inflict pain on her. She wants to understand why he wants to hurt her, so she tells him she wants to see the worst he can do. So he hits her with a belt, six times really hard without the pretense of sexual pleasure. The movie ends with her leaving and him trying to stop her.

The abuse in the novel and movie are off putting enough to eclipse the sex scenes. Will it trigger bad memories for people, who have suffered emotional, physical, and sexual abuse? Everyone has different tolerance levels, and some people can brace themselves if they know ahead of time what to expect.

I sat through the entire move, and didn’t have to leave because the movie’s fantasy elements were missing some of the realities of domestic abuse. Unlike many victims of abuse, Ana had her own apartment, and wasn’t completely financially dependent on her abuser. So she can leave, and there isn’t the unbearable trapped helplessness that abuse victims suffer.

However, she does have coincidentally or not traits abusive people look for. She doesn’t have good family support most importantly financial support, she is socially awkward and naive.

The most annoying part of the plot is that her innocence somehow will reform Christian in the end to a romance novel fantasy. For some people the allure of an abusive person, is that they can help them. They don’t realize until it is too late, and they are bound to the person by marriage, kids or both that they are sorely mistaken.

Perhaps the only way to get use of your time in watching this is to participate in the discourse about the culture that popularizes abuse as erotic.

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