The third and presumably last of the Fifty Shades Of Grey movies has arrived, and is in the process of being quickly forgotten. Still, the three films have made over a billion dollars, and the five books have sold an incredible 15 million copies combined.
Oh wait, I misread that. It's 150 million.
Anyway, I marathoned all three movies recently. (Not the books. The last book I read was the Necronomicon, and I learned my lesson.) Going into it, I expected a raunchy, debauched sex fest, but to me, the overarching story of the Fifty Shades trilogy looks more like a morality play than a porno.
Christian Grey's Sexual Habits Are The Enemy That Must Be Overcome
While the plot of Fifty Shades is thinner than a local newspaper story about a cool parrot that recently died, there is a bad guy in every movie, and that bad guy is sex. It's the thing that's keeping main characters Christian Grey and Anastasia Steel apart, the thing they have to overcome to fall in love and get married.
In most romance stories, the central couple is kept apart by life circumstances, like the family feud in Romeo And Juliet or how Westley is too poor to marry Buttercup in The Princess Bride. Or there's a villain working against them, like the Duke in Moulin Rouge or Jafar in Aladdin. They want to have sex with the heroine, so they try to break up the couple.
In Fifty Shades Of Grey, the main conflict is the sex contract that Christian wants Anastasia to sign, which eventually breaks them up. From then on, the villains are all of the people Christian has already had sex with. The second film has two of Chrstian's exes as the main antagonists. One stalks Ana, and the other tries to convince her he will never really love her because she can't fulfill his crazy sexual desires (we'll get back to that in a moment). The third movie sees Ana kidnapped by a woman who is being blackmailed with a sex tape.
Meanwhile, Ana's Virginity Is Treated Like Magic
While Christian's romantic past is literally trying to kill him, Ana's is never a problem because she starts the series as a virgin. It's kind of her superpower. She's like Harry Potter, but instead of a scar she has a hymen. In the movies, Christian is amazed when she tells him she's never had sex.
"Men must throw themselves at you," he says.
"Never one that I wanted," she replies.
"Barf," I whisper to my cat.
Ana and Christian don't have any real emotional bond. They don't share any interests or hobbies that we know of. Christian flies airplanes, drives boats, and plays piano. Ana reads, and ... honestly, I'm guessing about the reading thing. She works at a publishing company, but never really talks about having any hobbies at all. The only thing Christian can possibly like about her is her virginity and her looks. He knows very little about her beyond that.
The conclusion seems to be that if you have sex outside of anything more than a loving committed relationship, you'll end up a stalker, or being blackmailed, or meddling obsessively in your ex's life. However, if you save your virginity for the right person, he will be a billionaire with a nine pack whose favorite activities are braiding your hair and going down on you. The only thing that endangers their relationship is the fact that he didn't save his virginity for her too.
The Sex Is Incredibly Tame (But Is Treated As Depraved)
After watching all three of these movies in a row, I can safely say that I've never gotten so bored of watching two strangers with perfect bodies get it on. It has always been billed as being very taboo, envelope-pushing sex (I mean, this is literally the only thing the series is known for), but it pretty much boils down to the same thing every time: He handcuffs her or ties her up for a bit, either spanks her or goes down on her, then unties her, and they have sex in the lord's favorite sex position, missionary. This scandalous, boundary-pushing series has by my count a total of three featured sex positions across three movies, and that's only because they snuck in girl-on-top when they had sex fully clothed in a car (GASP).
But bondage! So kinky and strange, right? Except they were making bondage jokes on Three's Company in 1979. So maybe bondage is super kinky and weird if you're Don Knotts, but this is the era of the internet. Presenting Christian as an unlovable, out-of-control sex maniac is probably making some dude sitting in a bathtub full of human hair wearing a lizard costume feel pretty shitty.
Hell, there isn't even that much nudity. Christian can barely be bothered to slide his special blue jeans off his butt for sex. You see Ana completely nude in just about every sex scene, but Christian generally has on more clothing than a Calvin Klein model (and you can get plenty of naked women on basic cable these days). It's pretty well-known that they went through multiple male leads before they got to Jamie Dornan, and he refused to do full frontal nudity because he felt it wasn't "essential to the story." Look, I'm fine with Dornan being as nude or clothed as he's comfortable with, but what a terrible excuse. It's possible that a penis has never been more essential to any story in cinematic history. Meanwhile, on the set of Game Of Thrones, some guy's got his dick out during a monologue about naval tactics. You need to update your ideas of what's taboo, guys. Use a body double if you have to.
What We Wind Up With Are Some Oddly Puritanical Sex Movies
All of this matters because the one good thing most people have to say about this franchise is that it's extremely sex-positive. In reality, it seems to be positive about one very specific kind of sex and terrified of all others. The only other couple we see have sex in the trilogy are Elliott (Christian's brother) and Kate (Anastasia's roommate), and they end the series by getting engaged. In the Fifty Shades universe, sex ends in one of two ways: marriage because you've waited for the right one, or insanity because you've chosen poorly. Those are some pretty high stakes to hoist on a young woman who should only be worried about what size nipple clamps best suit her.
The whole "pushing the boundaries" mystique around the series is itself a paradox. When vanilla sex with toys anyone can buy from Amazon is presented as life-changing depravity, it tries to narrow the window of what's acceptable for the rest of us. It's kind of like when comedians think they're pushing boundaries by telling the kind of jokes the rest of us were laughing at when we were 15. It's an immature, simplistic view of sex presented as an "adult" story.
It clearly meant something to the massive audiences that paid to read/watch it (unless everyone was doing it ironically?), but you get the feeling that they weren't interested in pushing those boundaries. This story is all about preserving them.
You can follow Lydia on Twitter.
Pssst. Hey. Dude in the lizard costume. We've got one, too. Stay strong.
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