As expected, Fifty Shades of Grey, a BDSM romance, was a box-office sensation with moviegoers but not with a BDSM community, and for the right reasons. As many already know, the movie focuses on the erotic relationship between a recent college graduate, Anastasia (Ana) Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey.
As the dynamic between the characters unfolds, we quickly learn that Christian has a dark side – a sexual BDSM fetish. Christian was seduced at the age of fifteen by Ms. Robinson, a nickname given to Elena, his mother’s friend who first offered him a landscaping job only to seduce him later. It was Elena, who introduced Christian to BDSM lifestyle, a sexual practice he attempts to share with Ana.
BDSM aka bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism, is a growing sexual culture. It is unfortunate just how incorrect Fifty Shades of Grey attempts, if at best, to depict it. Anybody who is slightly familiar with BDSM knows that body tickling with a peacock feather, blindfolding, and light spanking, does not constitute BDSM no matter how accessorized your play room is!
Unless of course, like the protagonist of the film, you are Christian Grey and have been practicing BDSM since the age of fifteen! After all, we shouldn't disregard 12-years of experience, that's about how long it took me to get my Doctorate!
Despite Christian's extensive training in BDSM with Ms. Robinson, he still fails to understand one of the most fundamental principles of the BDSM - consent. The notion of consent is taking very seriously within BDSM community because it constitutes a mutual understanding between the two parties on what they give permission to.
The understanding of the nature of the relationship you are about to consent to is extremely important. For that reason, either a verbal or written contract is put in place to discuss in detail various terms such as safety words, variation of sexual acts, and types of sex toys to use.
The premise behind consent in BDSM is a choice. You are choosing to engage in it because you want to, and not, in contrast to our film siren Ana, because you are confused, sexually inexperienced, or ready to endure in the name of love! It’s not really Ana’s fault that she didn’t start jump her BDSM training days similarly to Christian at the age of fifteen. It just so happens that she got stuck with a bad teacher.
Ana’s confusion on what she is about to engage in is depicted in the scene in the scene where she is negotiating terms of the contract. As she tells Christian to strike out “anal fisting,” she proceeds to cross out “butt plug” only to look up at him with bewilderment and ask, “Wait! What is a butt plug? No just strike it out.”
Omitting sexual acts she is not familiar with and leaving the one’s she knows, but has not experienced, as we quickly learn in the beginning of the film that she is a virgin, doesn’t bring her any closer to fully understanding what she is about to sign off on. Perhaps Christian is less interested in seeking a consensual BDSM partner and more interested in re-creating his training days, now with him in the lead as Ms. Robinson.
Christian himself appears to lack clarity on the meaning of consent, a chapter gone missing during his sexual training, as he has a difficult time deciding between engaging in either sexual relationship or an intimate one with Ana.
The end scene portrays an even more disturbing dynamic between Christian and Ana. No longer are we left questioning the matter of consent. As Ana asks Christian to show her what his worst is capable of in hopes of better understanding him, we are left with a sadistic nature of his character.
Christian bends Ana over the table and instructs her to count up to six, for each spanking he is about to give. As each count of spanking increases, so does Ana's distress as she first flinches in pain and then begins to cry.
We are left with a one-way sadistic relationship between an abuser who is enjoying inflicting pain on an individual who no longer perceives it as pleasure. BDSM is about many things and a one-way sadistic relationship it is most defiantly not!
While it is clear that Fifty Shades of Grey missed the mark on portraying BDSM relationship, there are many movies that do a great job of capturing the scope, dynamics, and even psychology behind BDSM. Here are my top 3 favorite BDSM movie scenes:
1. THE SECRETARY
Legendary Luis Bunel's surreal classic explores BDSM from a psychological perspective as Severine, played by Catherine Deneuve, has a sequence of BDSM dreams in which she fantasizes about an S&M relationship with her husband.
3. NYMPHOMANIAC VOL I & II
While this Lars von Trier film is not explicitly a walk down the BDSM lane, it does have a sequence of excellently set up BDSM shots with the main character played by Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Now that you know how Fifty Shades of Grey missed the mark on BDSM it doesn't mean that you should avoid seeing it. In fact, if you haven't yet seen the film, I highly encourage you to do so. Why? Because movies often depict incorrect information but it doesn't prevent the audience from enjoying it.
Keep an open mind and ask yourself whether what you are seeing seems right or wrong. For additional readings on BDSM I recommend two excellent texts in my reading section.