Film Review: Fifty Shades Darker
I've realized that if I want to be the next Roger Ebert, I won't do it by only seeing movies I like. For me, the most important movies to criticize are the most popular ones, because their popularity is a reflection of the cultural direction society is going in. So, if this appalling vomit pile were not pulling in such big box office numbers, I wouldn't feel the need to talk about it. It's made 287 million dollars right now, despite a well-earned 8% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Maybe people are going to see it because it's sexy, maybe they're going because it is bad and yet it's kind of a thing for them to laugh at and feel better about themselves for? Is it because it's every girl's dream to have a billionaire boyfriend with a sweet physique? What the hell is actually going on here? Why is it so popular? Did everyone lose their minds?
What I think is that:
- The movie is stupid, but not as bad as I thought it would be either.
- The movie is an escapist fantasy for white-collar office drones.
- Christian Grey is everything girls like: money, a troubled backstory, money, and money. People are right in thinking he would not be considered sexy at all if he were a poor, ugly man living alone in a one-room shack.
This movie does not understand sex, or relationships (I'll expound upon this later), but the fetish gear and lingerie shown is sexy without being obviously pornographic. It's pornography that stops at the point where it would disgust certain people. It's a fake, lighter version of BDSM, toned down for timid housewives and office girls. It's about the thrill of dangerous love, but it knows not to make anything too dangerous.
Fifty Shades Darker starts off after Anastasia has broken it off with brooding billionaire hunk Christian Grey. This is because she's decided she doesn't want to just be a submissive, she wants a normal relationship with respect, not a contract with discipline and rules. Good for her. She's focusing on her job as an executive assistant at a publishing company, and seems pretty happy.
But Christian can't accept her rejection, and basically ends up forcibly coming back into her life. No one in this movie respects Ana's decisions or consent, and she kind of brushes it all off, being very weak-willed and easily led. She says she'll get back together with him on the condition that he agrees to a "vanilla" relationship. What this means in real life is no whips and chains, but in this messed-up movie that does not understand BDSM even though it's supposedly about that, it means "we won't do anything the sub is uncomfortable with". What? That's the definition of regular BDSM. That's a basic ground rule for BDSM play. If a dominant pushes forward too much with anything that makes the submissive uncomfortable, and they say they want to stop but the dominant partner doesn't stop, that's rape. This movie is basically saying that any sex that is not "vanilla" is rape. So that's... that's just... all kinds of stupid.
So, for a while, they seem to be dating, but Ana is not comfortable with him giving her ridiculously large amounts of money for no reason. I think it's important for her to earn her own money and not be financially dependent on him. Good for her, again.
But the main conflict in this film is with Ana learning about Grey's past through two exes. One is an older woman who presumably taught him everything he knows about sex (which isn't that much, actually!), and the other is a creepy, mousey girl who used to be his submissive, who is still in love with him. That girl resents Anastasia when Christian puts a ring on it, because it makes her wonder why her total devoted submission to him was not good enough. She pulls a gun on Ana and probably is the one who destroyed Ana's car. The problem is, the movie doesn't really talk about her or the other ex all that much. Christian's adopted mom stands up for Ana against the older lady, in the closest thing this movie has to a climax. But we never know that much about her or what her and Christian's relationship was like.
Christian never talks about anything. His way of dealing with this madness is to run off and let everyone think he'd died in a helicopter crash, only to come back like "I'm fine, what's for dinner". So the main issue with this movie is, a lot of things happen because of Christian's past, but he doesn't talk about his past. Only reluctantly does he show Ana where she cannot touch him (it's on his freakish pectoral man-boobs) because he was burned there as a child by cigarettes by his father. The problem is, he also has those burns on his back, and also why would he never have said this kind of thing before? Never before has it come up that he doesn't like to be touched on the chest? That's something you say the first time you sleep with someone!
The Worst Things:
- Lack of understanding of the basics when it comes to sex, relationships, communication, and consent.
- The soundtrack is unbearable. Worst music I've ever endured in a movie in my life.
- The sailboat scene is like a commercial for that particular sailboat. There's so many establishing shots of the freaking boat over and over again, instead of focusing on the characters and setting up a meaningful dialog or interactions that take place on the boat. It's just terrible editing, leaving us the audience thinking, "ok when are they going to be done showing the boat off again and again and again?".
- In one scene, Ana looks impressed that Christian pulled some strings to get fired a man who tried to rape her. People who try to rape their employees usually get fired anyway, Ana! This movie treats Ana's consent as something that shouldn't matter to anyone, but the law says otherwise.
- The most interesting characters, the exes, are not shown enough for us to really understand them. I expected that they were conspiring together against Ana. I expected something interesting to happen to them, but very little is shown about who they are and what they want. They're basically just there to present threats to Ana, to be dangerous, but they don't come across as fully human characters.
- We're shown a brief scene of Christian's child abuse, and he mentions his mother was an "addict, crack" which is a natural way of speaking, sure? And yet it seems like we're only seeing a small chunk of his trauma iceberg. And it's uncomfortable that Ana agrees to marry him even though he is willing to communicate so little about his obviously screwed-up past.
- Christian's obsessive, controlling, and stalker-ish behavior is portrayed as romantic, and Ana seems to be bordering on having Stockholm Syndrome.
- There's the aforementioned issue I take with them not understanding basic principles of what a BDSM vs. a "vanilla" relationship entail, and the fact that they conflate BDSM, which is consensual, with violence and rape.
Also, from what I've read on the subject of BDSM, with his kind of past, Christian would more likely become a submissive than a dominant. Submissives are often high-level executives, and are usually people with a history of being abused or being victims of violence. They act out a role-play of what happened to them almost as a kind of therapy, reliving the act in a way that they can control it. Sure, his idea of being a sexual sadist and needing to "punish women who look like mom" could happen in real life, but it is more likely that he would have become a submissive. But submissive men are not sexy to most women, so a movie about that, while it would be more interesting, is unlikely to get made.
What's Actually Good?
- Lingerie and costume porn.
- Ana and Christian are hot, and we get to see both naked a good amount of time (but no genitals are shown, that would be naughty). You get to see Ana in cute outfits and Christian working out. Enjoy that much.
- It's a sexy romance story if you don't think about it too hard.
- It was overall a decent film-going experience, if you go into it expecting it to be bad and just watch it to make fun of with your friends or SO.
It's not the cultural apocalypse some people might think it is, but it's certainly no treasure. If anything, it might make it into that "so bad it's funny" pile, though.