I went to see “50 Shades of Grey” on Valentine’s Day. Some friends and I thought it would be funny to watch such an anti-romantic movie on a day devoted to romance itself. “50 Shades of Grey” was expectedly unremarkable: The dialogue was stilted; the acting, mediocre; the plot, vapid. Perhaps the only saving grace of the movie was its distinct color palette and cinematography.
I was okay with those facts given that I’d come looking for nothing more than entertainment, to laugh uncomfortably at the sex scenes and make snarky comments on the character development. When the movie began, it certainly seemed to fulfill this purpose with stimulating conversations such as, “I want you to make love to me.” “I don’t make love. I fuck. Hard.”
Yet as the movie progressed, I began to find it less funny and take it more seriously. I found myself salivating at the square jawline and pock-marked six-pack of Christian Grey. His forceful rhetoric and arrogant tone became enticing rather than aggravating. Midway through the movie, I realized I had fallen for the man I had vowed to disdain.
If you were to read a quick synopsis of the movie, it would read as a disturbing love story of a meek young woman who falls for an abusive, stalkerish, wealthy young bachelor with a penchant for bondage. From this simple vantage point, this story is anything but appealing.
So what has made this story fuel for the private fantasies of so many?
It’s a simple but depressing answer: attraction.
Had Christian Grey been depicted as an old man with missing teeth or even as a young unattractive man, he would have immediately been described as creepy.
Christian acts inappropriately on many occasions throughout the movie. When he first takes Anastasia back after stalking her at a bar, she wakes up to find herself in a completely new outfit that Christian changed her into while she was unconscious. He then proceeds to feed her while she’s in bed, crawling up to her and biting on the piece of toast she is eating.
Later on in the movie, when Anastasia decides that she is uncomfortable with the contract Christian has drawn up, detailing what is and is not allowed during their sexual encounters, she texts him to terminate their relationship. Upon coming home, she finds him in her bedroom with two wine glasses, asking her to reconsider her decision.
Christian becomes progressively more and more controlling. In an initially seeming romantic gesture, he buys her a brand new car as a graduation present but sells her beloved old Bug without telling her. At one point, she tells him she’s going to visit Georgia to see her mother; she arrives, and whom should she run into but the man she was fleeing.
Disturbingly, each of these situations leads Anastasia to fall further in love with him when, in reality, they should serve as a red flag. Replace Christian with an unattractive man and she wouldn’t have wanted to be within a hundred miles of him after their first encounter.
By depicting these scenes and Anastasia’s positive responses to Christian’s inappropriate behavior, “50 Shades” condones emotional abuse. It romanticizes behavior that could have legal repercussions in any other context.
But one can also leave the theater with a different message, viewing the movie as a way to reflect on a disconcerting aspect of human nature: our greater acceptance of illicit behavior when the perpetrators are visually appealing.
I left the theater questioning whether it was I, rather than Christian Grey, that was 50 shades of fucked up.