Time has come for a little excurse into mainstream cinema, namely one of this year’s biggest Hollywood blockbusters: «50 Shades of Grey», the adaptation of the eponymous novel by E. L. James.
The film we’re talking about premiered this February at the Berlin International Film Festival and grossed $ 569.7 million worldwide. In the media it was widely announced as being “sexually explicit” and so I was quite curious to see how far Hollywood had gone this time.
Despite the fact that the relationship between a ridiculously rich and good looking Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and the wallflower / English lit student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) portrayed is far from being pornographic or shocking it is a lot more daring than the comparably glamorous screen couple Bella and Edward of the Twilight saga. Whereas these characters were drenched in the Mormon values of Stephenie Meyer, author of the novel it was based on – e.g. the impossible sexual intercourse between the lovers before Bella has converted to “vampirism” – E. L. James’ novel seems to draw from the masters of erotic literature à la Sartre and Sacher-Masoch. However, the film doesn’t show much sexuality but a lot of what might happen to Anastasia is implied by Mr. Grey’s playground: a kind of torture room full of sex toys, whips and hard-core props.
What’s made explicit in the film is more the framework in which the sex takes place. Mr. Grey is a serial lover: Fifteen women have preceded Anastasia as his “submissive” and have been allocated a suite in his downtown Seattle penthouse. Seemingly as tough in business as in love, the 25-year-old billionaire isn’t ready for compromises. He wants her so much as to bind her to a contract, in which multiple clauses stipulate in a very detailed manner under what conditions the dominant-submissive relationship will work. But how on earth is such a demand legitimate in the 21st Century? To his defence Grey says that he has himself been the submissive of an older woman for nearly a decade making him “50 shades of fucked up”. Let’s believe him and play «What Kind of Man» by Florence + The Machine in the background – just so to better cope with this total machismo.
50 Shades of G(r)ay
Anastasia it still a virgin – much to the pleasure of Mr. Grey – and like in Twilight on a symbolical level, the virginity narrative seems to be an everlasting (American) dream. However, what actually touches the global Zeitgeist is the rationalisation of the relationship, here in the form of a binding contract, in our daily life more in the shape of dating apps like Tinder or Grindr, another smartphone app developed for gays, which was a pioneer in the field.
This brings me to explain why I chose to allude to the paronomasias between Grey and gay. It is probably not a coincidence that this rationalisation or even economisation of relationships stems from the gay culture where you can find exact penis measurements on dating websites like planetromeo and could locate potential sex partners on Grindr long before similar apps became equally widespread for heterosexuals. Whereas gay culture brought all kinds of innovations to western societies, from the initial loosening of party culture and relationship morals to the current redefinition of our family concept it also brought an awfully “gay way” of conceptualising love relationships, which I dare say must have something to do with manliness and some of its most commonly associated “qualities” like competition and plain calculation. And so it is that the last remains of romanticism cultivated over centuries are slowly crumbling down and replaced by exact measurements and data exchange.
In that sense, Anastasia hasn’t «Earned it» like The Weeknd sings it, nor should she agree to Ellie Goulding’s hit song «Love me like you do» – both used in the original soundtrack. There is no way she should have signed this contract. That’s not how girls – or boys – should love, not now nor tomorrow, and there’s no excuse for agreeing to such idiotic messages.
At least not longer than the duration of an admittedly quite entertaining chick flick with a very attractive cast 😉