(Spoiler Alert: This review may contain details that certain readers would rather not know or realize right away.)
In Fifty Shades of Grey every set is spic and span, with rooms and corridors straight from the pages of Architectural Digest. Every piece of clothing is a fashion statement on casual coolness or formal impressiveness, as in Vogue or Esquire. Every rack or drawer, whether in a hardware store or a dedicated sadist’s “playroom,” is in perfect order. One can be in awe over pieces of equipment that are clearly new and arranged impeccably, as if they’re to be used for the first time.
And so are the people in the most successfully marketed movies in recent years. The secretaries of billionaire Christian Grey look like they didn’t have to go through an interview, though they were picked along stringent standards of elite model agencies or fashion reality shows. The supporting characters such as the parents have the perfect jobs and the right temperament, their exits and entrances carefully plotted and counted, their needs and desires clear-cut. Read that: mostly nonexistent.
None of the supporting personae actually question any other non-character’s action, nor raise objection to anything, come to think of it. Everyone seems to be oblivious to the story’s explosive central theme, namely dominance and submission in sexual relationships.
Everyone except The Dedicated Dominant Master and His Reluctant Submissive Trainee, whose sole purpose is to dig, no matter how shallowly, into the minute details of what can be a potent aphrodisiac in sexual relationships but at the same time a psychological and moral Pandora’s box.
Its psychological strands can fill up a college textbook. The moral issues revolve around what is at its core a deeply reli-gious set of questions: Do our bodies really belong to us? Is pleasure a sin? What role does sex play in the hierarchy of values?
The model-agency handsome Dedicated Dominant Master is presumably a young woman’s dream. He’s got the money, a stable of sleek cars, a condo unit in every city he needs to be, and above all the time to engage in his singular passion. He’s got not just her number but her exact geographical location on his mobile phone. So very badly does he need to extract a narcissistic sexual high from the model-agency-pretty college graduate that he plies her with costly treats, rewards and even concessions, insisting that she signs what seems to be a legally binding consent form.
The Reluctant Submissive Trainee seems to be drawn to the training process and sample excitation sessions, but she’s of two minds about the rules and consent form. Dressed up in ad agencies’ mandatory designer suit, she negotiates The Sex Contract’s details right in his headquarters’ conference room, no holds barred, businessman-to-businesswoman, striking out several items that could be hair-raising for ordinary people like us but are really quite normal and delightful to “The Dominant” and “The Submissive.”
Fifty Shades of Grey titillates with its tautly choreographed and intelligently edited scenes of initiation into the dark corridors of sexual euphemisms. Pain is pleasure, and pleasure pain. A low point in a person’s life is the “high” of another. There are “50 shades” of playroom pleasures, a number of them bordering on violence and courting permanent physical damage. Also, the “first time” doesn’t just apply to the still-a-virgin heroine but to many who have flocked to the theaters. The frisson of the “first time”—ahhh this could be the key to this movie’s wild success. Virgins are queueing up for tickets. Masters-wannabes are jotting down mental notes on how to train a slave. Dress rich. Act rich. Reward rich. And punish hard.
Dakota Johnson’s sensitive performance as Anastasia, infused with vulnerability, is enhanced by director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s attempt, which works very well for the most part—to make a human out of an inflatable doll. To those involved with casting, model-agency handsome Jamie Dornan proves to be a good pick for the role of “The Magnate with a Quirk That Tabloids Must Not Find Out.” Dornan subversively exudes not the macho-ness expected perhaps of porn-flick studs but a sweetness of character that is the opposite of certified all-male.
Dakota and Jamie’s rewards may not be great in heaven, but in the film world, they certainly will be. In fact they already are. I’ve just been told that there will be a sequel.
Ah, what the heck. It’s only sex.