All tease, no climax: ‘Fifty Shades’ not sexy or nuanced enough to satisfy


“Fifty Shades of Grey”

Directed by: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan

Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior, graphic nudity and language

Grade: D

If you’re just watching “Fifty Shades of Grey” to see some hot, kinky sex and a flash of certain body parts here or there, you’ll be left wanting.

Sam Taylor-Johnson’s adaptation of the “Twilight” fan fiction bestseller is far tamer than its source material, but it starts off interestingly enough by setting up the dichotomy of its lead characters. “Fifty Shades” contrasts the vastly different lives of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a college student in Washington working her way toward an English literature degree, and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), the alluringly mysterious CEO of Grey Enterprises.

Christian meticulously adheres to a strict and orderly lifestyle while Anastasia leads her own safe, boring life. She still rocks a flip phone and works at the local hardware store to make some cash to support herself through college.

Ana interviews Christian for her school newspaper, and their interaction immediately establishes sexual tension. Awkward sexual innuendo, possibly intentional, pops up throughout their conversation to elicit a few chuckles. While Ana mumbles and fumbles over her words, Christian exudes confidence with his piercing gaze and commanding tone. But rather than coming off as sexy and playful, their conversations sound uncomfortably one-sided. This sets up a shaky foundation for their strange, confusing and power-obsessed — but romantic — relationship.

Ana’s voice reflects her personality — breathy, airy, monotone and unsure. Her character is disappointingly one-dimensional and only serves to intensify Christian’s personality and actions. Even though she’s a whip-smart college student, Ana has the sexual IQ of a middle schooler. Several times throughout the movie, she asks exceedingly innocent questions about sexuality, including “What are butt plugs?”

Christian is still enamored and pursues Ana, showing up in various parts of her life whether she likes it or not. Upon discovering that Ana’s a virgin, he responds: “Where have you been all my life? Men must be throwing themselves at you!”

Yes, as if all of her self-worth and value lies solely in her virginity. Interestingly enough, Ana’s childish and shy personality starts to mature as her relationship with Christian progresses. This isn’t a coincidence, and it’s a nod to girls who grew up hearing this message of male reliance all their lives.

Christian tells Ana at one point that he can’t stay away from her, and he means it quite literally. In the context of the film, his protective actions are portrayed as charming and romantic. But when described in plain conversation, some of them just come off as creepy and obsessive — which isn’t far off from the story’s “Twilight” counterpart. 

As the film progresses, and after Ana uncovers Christian’s secret of practicing BDSM, the power dynamic also begins to shift. The characters enter a constant tug of war in terms of power. Christian wants Ana to give in and satisfy his BDSM desires, while Ana wants to pierce the wall that shields his elusive emotions and “change” him. Regardless of their muddy intentions, what’s clear is that they both love each other in some way.

While this movie is clearly an unrealistic erotic fantasy, all films shape our societal impressions and understandings of what’s appropriate. Ana and Christian’s relationship mirrors that of awkward teenage dating, where teenagers have mismatched intentions or desires, but the messages and blurred lines of sexual intentions are more problematic. 

There’s also lot of controversy regarding the lack of respect for Ana’s needs and the topic of consent. A contemporary erotic fantasy, it still perpetuates the stereotypical roles of the meek, submissive female and the confident, perfectionist, dominant male. 

Ironically, Christian’s character stresses the concept of consent with the use of a physical “contract.” But he quickly abandons it (he throws it to the ground at one point) and the lines between the characters’ intentions become even more blurred.

The power struggle emerges here, as Ana’s intentions become fluid, too. Is she entering Christian’s world because she wants to please him and to be desired, or because of his promise that she will benefit from it? Are her desires and needs important at all, or is it all about satisfying Christian’s needs in the end? Although she “teases” him and refuses to let him have his way every time, does this ever give her any sort of power, or does it again just feed his ego and play into his game?

The reality is, love isn’t a game — and getting obsessive isn’t sexy.