Fifty Shades of Nay


Photo Courtesy of IMDb

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan star in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the film adaptation of E.L. James’ book of the same name that has received mixed reactions by audiences. 

By Max Ginkel

Forget everything you have heard about this film—the cheers, jeers, fanfare and anticipation. If you take away the whips and chains, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is just like any other romance movie. The formula is girl meets boy, they fall in love—cue the montage of them laughing and cuddling—then the audience watches them overcome some conflict to find out if their love is strong enough.

The film follows Anastasia Steele, played by Dakota Johnson (“Need For Speed”), and her relationship with young billionaire and BDSM enthusiast Christian Grey, played by Jamie Dornan (“The Fall”).  Director Sam Taylor-Johnson (“Nowhere Boy”), working off E.L. James’ infamous novel, understands the source material and knows how to masterfully tell a love story. She also understands what she’s working with and gives the audience exactly what it wants. It is entertaining and projects a tonality that can only be described as laughable. Unfortunately, as soon as the love montage arrives, the punch line disappears and the film becomes real, and, well, boring, even with the sex scenes.

Despite what you may have heard, this is not the best vehicle for getting your rocks off. The sex scenes are certainly seductive—in no small part thanks to Danny Elfman and Beyoncé’s killer soundtrack—but they just aren’t kinky. If people were searching for a real look into the BDSM sex life, they would do better on

Grey himself is an archetype—the classic vampire of literature and film. He exudes mystique, preys on a virgin and attempts to turn her into one of his kind. There is a reason the vampire archetype has been around for so long: It works, though the film could be more straightforward with its portrayal of Grey and his moral ambiguity. 

Undeniably abusive, Grey manipulates, controls and emotionally harms Johnson. The film does not condone his behavior; if anything, it allows the audience to make its own judgements. The relationship may be romanticized, but the film is told from Johnson’s vantage point, so the romanticisms are expected. There’s no violence—the sex scenes are tame—but there is no tiptoeing around the  relationship issues.

The problem with Grey’s violence is not its nature but the lack of interest the film really has in it. The question of why he is that way is presented but never explored in depth, and the viewer is given very little to go on. Grey’s sexual tendencies are a major plot point but far from the theme of the film. Instead of teaching the audience about BDSM, the narrative uses it to bring Grey’s darker side to the foreground, giving a false impression of the world of kinks. Grey and Steele continuously discuss Grey’s need to be dominant, and the conclusion they draw is “he was born that way.”  

Grey’s fetish is portrayed as some malignant Freudian tendency, a result of a flawed childhood rather than a personal preference for expressing sexual pleasure. The lack of complexity in Dornan’s performance does not help. The audience is never brought inside his head to discover his true relationship with his sadistic tendencies. He is a fascinating character in theory, but in execution he’s a little grey.

The relationship between Dornan and Johnson is not believable, either. Johnson herself is a sound mixer’s worst nightmare—Every line she delivers is a whisper as if her entire performance took place in a library. Dornan is a sight for sore eyes, but the novelty of this wears off after it becomes evident he has about as much expressiveness as a comatose Kristen Stewart. Together, the two make an unrealistic couple, even for this film. 

The real scandal in “Fifty Shades of Grey” is how good it could have been. The topic of sadism and sexual dominance is potent, and the story of a young virgin falling into an abusive relationship with a much more powerful man is a great and proven subject for a film, but it falls prey to sensationalism and is short of expectations.