Review: “Fifty Shades” of the male gaze

Graphic by Casey Linenberg '19 

Graphic by Casey Linenberg '19 


The Fifty Shades of Grey film series, based on the book series that shook the world by pretending to shed light on BDSM, has released its second installment: “Fifty Shades Darker,” directed by James Foley. Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) is the antithesis to a woman of action — she is constantly being told what to do and asks Christian (Jamie Dornan) for permission before she does anything. Beside the clear structural issues with the plot, or lack thereof, this movie and people’s obsession with it are simply terrifying.

The movie begins with Anastasia attending her friend’s art exhibit. (Spoiler: the art is mostly huge portraits of her.) Christian, her ex-but-soon-to-be-current boyfriend, turns up and purchases all the portraits be- cause he doesn’t want other men adoring her. And just like that, Anastasia’s brief moment of independence is over — and it’s back to the weird dynamic that characterized the first film.

There is an immediate issue with the movie: the plot. So much happens in “Fifty Shades Darker” that just doesn’t make any sense. Examples include Anastasia immediately taking Christian back after she runs into him at the art gallery, Christian surviving a helicopter crash absolutely unscathed (without thinking to call his grieving family) and Anastasia going from lowly assistant to head fiction editor of the publishing firm for which she works. Without spoiling the exact details, this promotion comes after Christian intervenes in her work — something Anastasia asks him not to do and then, of course, accepts with no consequence. Her character had the potential to become a role model for women, comfortable with her sexuality and a boss lady in the workplace. Although it sometimes seems that Foley is trying to achieve that, Anastasia just comes off as a meek mouse searching for Christian’s approval.

People are enthralled by “Fifty Shades of Grey” because its popularity made it socially acceptable to talk about sex in “polite” company. Even Reese Witherspoon gushed about reading it in a Vogue interview. However, the movie’s portrayal of sex and consent is troubling.

The story focuses on the relationship between Anastasia and Christian, in which it often seems that she is losing touch with anyone besides him. Although the casual observer may claim that Anastasia is giving consent in the relationship, Christian’s constant pressure, extravagant gifts of money and imposed isolation diminish her ability to do so — and lead Anastasia to accept Christian’s behavior as normal. When one of Christian’s past partners appears in the plot line, it is obvious that she was also a victim of his abuse. Actual practitioners of BDSM have come out against the series, saying that BDSM can and should be empowering when there is clear consent from both partners. In “Fifty Shades Darker,” that is clearly not the case.

The film’s portrayal of sex is also marred by the fact that its male director, James Foley, fails to convey the nuances of female sexuality. Anastasia may as well be a literal sex doll for Christian, evident in the way he treats her and by his obsession with picking her up and carrying her when she doesn’t follow his directions.

There should be movies that tell the story of couples engaging in real, safe BDSM — but “Fifty Shades Darker” is not such a movie. In three words: don’t see it.