It’s not “Pretty Woman”. I will say that.
Let me be clear, I went into this film with the lowest of expectations. In fact, the only place for it to go was up. I was slightly surprised. I don’t like to be predictable, and everyone who knew I was being taken to see this film seemed to expect me to exit the cinema spewing hate and bile.
So let’s start at the beginning.
We see Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan, far too early. He’s the first character shown in the film, shredding him of any mystery. I feel that the director should have built up the protagonist first. It’s an erotic romance; of course there is going to be a love interest, we know this, so why rush their entrance?
A good erotic story should be like a good thriller. A great deal of suspense and a slight tinge of fear should be involved.
Ana, played by Dakota Johnson, does not get off to a good start in my eyes. It was at this early stage where I winced and silently prayed that this film not be two hours of the tedious, timid and empty-headed “heroine” that we were subjected to in the novel. Johnson seems to be playing into the hands of the author perfectly, giving us a weak and weedy character that seems utterly feeble and two-dimensional.
Grey and Ana’s first meeting is cringe-worthy and awkwardly staged, involving Ana tripping and stumbling about his office, while Dornan’s Irish accent fights back viciously against the American dialect he’s attempting to pull off.
It’s not a meet-cute, by any stretch of the imagination, and I sighed a sigh of disappointment, resigning myself to the fact that I was about to sit through a dramatic reading of a very flawed and badly written novel.
Thankfully, we’re not subjected to any of the horrific mental ramblings of Ana’s psyche, or the references to her inner goddess. So the story moves along, with Ana going for coffee with Grey and receiving his gifts with no opinion or comment. I’m fidgeting and restless in my seat, laughing when I shouldn’t be and feeling completely cynical.
Then, everything changes. A scene where Ana drunk dials Christian from inside a bar arrives.
And Dakota Johnson is funny.
Suddenly, this actress brings out a sassy, witty and somewhat bitter side to an almost comatose character. This injection of humour suddenly brings the story to life, and I’m sitting up properly and watching.
Funny will always make me pay attention. It’s a true sign of great storytelling, something utterly absent from the novel but refreshingly present in the film adaptation.
From this point onwards, film-Ana shows a constant awareness of Christian’s bossiness and continually makes acerbic comments about his behaviour. All of this is new to us, unseen in the book, and it’s thrilling for me. She becomes a likeable, believable character for the very first time. Johnson slowly comes out of her shell as the film goes on, bringing a vivaciousness to the story that it really, really, REALLY needed.
The scene where she goes over the contract with Grey has been rewritten so she, the woman, is completely in control. She firmly shakes off his physical touch and goes over her issues with the things he wants to do to her. She is stern and direct when she lists the acts that she finds unfeasible and it makes me want to leap to my feet and look around the cinema.
“Consent! This screenwriter understands what consent is!”
Consent is constantly addressed throughout the film, where it goes unmentioned in the book.
Let’s not pretend that this is the first film to ever portray sex. Society’s fascination with “Games of Thrones” suggests that most people are used to nudity and simulated sex, let alone those who are used to watching pornography. We are not an innocent generation.
There is nothing truly shocking about the sex scenes. They are done artfully, with a lot of focus on hitched breaths and sighs and moaning. Breasts are pretty central, visible from the get-go. Genitals are carefully edited out. There’s actually very little thrusting, it’s mostly breathing that tells the story.
I wasn’t getting hot and bothered by any of it, not that I expected to, but I appreciated its somewhat gentle approach; it’s not nearly as graphic and clinical as the book.
Weirdly, the scene where he gives her three quick slaps on the arse is one of the most erotic moments. This is probably entirely due to the fact that we can see her visibly enjoying and welcoming the attention.
The last scene is upsetting to me. Ana asks Grey to show her how bad the beatings can be and he obliges. The director is quick to make us see that Grey is hesitant about it and not revelling in sadistic joy, like his literary alter ego. The beatings are harsh and loud enough to make you flinch, which I did. Five or six times.
It’s disturbing, for we see Dakota Johnson begin to cry as she’s bent over a table and beaten by the man she’s fallen in love with and it’s fucking hard to watch.
This film didn’t turn me on but it got me thinking about my life.
I’ve been the girl giddy and in love, seeing the world for the first time and finding poetry in everything.
And I’ve been the girl on the table who can’t stop crying, wondering why love feels so very much like hate.
This film isn’t about sex. It’s really not. The book was. This is about falling in love. That’s why people go to the cinema to see it. If they wanted to see people have sex, they’d type something specific into Google.
All the people in that cinema were there, looking up at this story unfolding, and thinking the same thing.
“I wish my life were like the movies.”
And so, I say this film succeeded where its original source failed. Dornan and Johnson surely shouldn’t win any awards, but they brought some much-needed humanity to two empty vessels. Humour and the proper exploration of consent made the feminist in me comfortable to watch the whole thing.
As I said, it didn’t make me want to rip my clothes off. It didn’t even make me cross my legs; but I don’t think that was ever the director’s aim.
It made me miss my boyfriend so much I could hardly breathe.
We’re humans. Why are we used to watching films that show bombs blowing things up and people shooting and stabbing each other? Why is that normal and acceptable, but a sexual relationship between two people is enough to cause an enormous hype?
We all want to be loved. And touched. And made to feel special and wanted and alive. And that’s what this film gives to people. For two hours, you can sit in the dark and escape into some sort of world where people are brave with their emotions and their feelings.
So if you go to see it with your partner, tell them you love them. If you go with a date, make a move. Why wait?
We can choose love. We can choose life like the movies.
Every single story ever written is a love story. Even one with appalling technique that hides behind BDSM.