Art by Jenny Rustdad
Christian Grey had millions of Valentines on the night of the 14th, and I was one of them.
I’ve spent the past 20 years running from cliches, but I, along with many of my single peers, spent the evening of Cupid’s holiday at the movies watching the highly anticipated “50 Shades of Grey.”
Did I go because I thought I was going to view a cinematic masterpiece, or because I support what many critics of the film like to refer to as the “romanticizing of domestic violence”? Not at all. Just as Americans flocked to the cinema in 1969 to see John Schlesinger’s sexually provocative “Midnight Cowboy,” I went because I was curious to see how Hollywood would go about adapting one of the most sexually explicit novels of our generation into a box-office hit.
Never before has the convoluted world of sadism and masochism been the subject of a major motion picture, and never before have audiences been asked to react to something so taboo — and strong reactions there were. After seeing the movie, I agree with those who think that both E. L. James’ novel and the film send out some very unhealthy messages about the nature of love, but I don’t believe the biggest problem lies in what Anastasia and Christian did in the bedroom.
Many people hated or flat-out refused to see the movie because they believe it glorifies physical violence against women and turns unhealthy relationships into something worth romanticizing, and honestly, it’s difficult to know the subject of the film and not draw that conclusion. However, I found it interesting that for every minute the film focuses on the bizarre fetishes of Christian Grey, there’s another whose subject is the intricacies of the consensual contract between the two main characters-what Anastasia is willing to try, the boundaries Christian is willing to honor, the safe words they agree to use, her freedom to leave whenever she feels uncomfortable. Apparently, Christian is only interested in these strange physical pursuits if they’re with someone who wants to experience them, or at least give them a try. And if they’re not interested, neither is he.
Hollywood didn’t just release a movie that glorifies being kidnapped and unwillingly tortured as a sex slave. If it did, my feminist side would be seething in anger. Instead, I believe that “50 Shades” seeks to show audiences just how sexually incompatible two people can be, and the lengths they will go to reconcile their differences.
Which is where I believe the real criticism should lie. My biggest grievance against the movie and the story depicted in the trilogy thus far is that it pushes the idea that women should change their personal values in order to make men happy — that we have to make sacrifices if we want to have the dream guy.
Granted, at the end of the movie, Anastasia stands up for herself and walks out on Christian, which is a victory in itself. But up until then, Anastasia was tolerating a distinct sexual incompatibility that was contributing to her unhappiness. And why was she doing it? Because, as noted by her roommate, Christian Grey has the wealth, the power, the looks and the means to make a girl swoon, and Anastasia would be crazy to pass him up.
“50 Shades” seems to be saying that when females find a guy who has the whole package, we should tolerate any of the catches, no matter how strong the emotional or physical consequences. It sends the message that guys who seem to be perfect will always be too good to be true, and that our only chance of being with them involves us making a huge sacrifice for however long we wish to be romantically involved. When we stick to our guns, it’s over. We’ll never find someone with whom we are completely compatible.
And that’s pure garbage. Since when can women — or men, for that matter — not have it all without sacrificing a major part of their dignity? Why did Anastasia succumb to even briefly altering her sexual preferences in order to be with “Mr. Perfect”? The personality of our generation is built largely upon the idea that we should never change ourselves for other people, and that foundation has been a hard one to build. Movies like 50 Shades certainly don’t help the cause.
Though it’s obvious that the relationship between Christian and Anastasia is 50 shades of screwed up, and not many sane women out there will look at Anastasia as a role model, we shouldn’t doubt the potency of the subtler messages. They aren’t the kind anyone, single or in a committed relationship, needs to be receiving on Valentine’s Day. But no matter what each of us makes of the film, or how extreme our opinions about it are, there’s no denying the fact that 50 Shades made us think- about the nature of love, the act of romance and the importance of compatibility.
Follow Nicole on Twitter: @nicolevirzi_