About the “steamy action” in 50-Shades-the-film

OK, I want to throw my two cents in when it comes to the portrayal of sex in the film of 50 Shades of Grey. This is partly in response to the rather sarcastic indictment of the film offered by the Honest trailer for it (here if you’re interested), in that the “steamy action” includes contracts, negotiation, clauses, conditions, emails, texting, non-disclosure agreements…

…and “tender missionary love-making”.

First point I want to make is the film is trying to be a romance with sex scenes, not a porn film. Yes, 20% of it is sex or sex related (that was the statistic I read in the run up to the release of the film, but I didn’t make a point of verifying the fact between my yawns when I watched it) but it stayed within certain limits. X-rated pornography shows genitalia in close up. 50 Shades of Grey doesn’t show any genitalia. Porn has a tendency (I’m told) for wild ecstatic screaming and overacting; FSOG doesn’t, well at least on the ecstatic screaming front. Porn is focussed almost exclusively on the act of sex and doesn’t have a plot. FSOG might not really have a plot, but – importantly – it is primarily focussed on the relationship between Ana and Christian, not just the sex. Conclusion: it is not “porn” in the widely understood sense. (The question of whether 50 Shades of Grey can be said to be pornographic is a different question and not one I’m going to attempt to answer here.)

I’m also wiling to bet that for a number of people the contract negotiation etc was part of the appeal. So of course it’s in the film. The idea is to build tension as you ask yourself whether Ana is going to agree or not. Plus, the whole concept of having a Submissive and a Dominant and the whole kinky Red Room of Pain is meant to be new, subversive and exciting – even though it isn’t “sex”. In the books, Christian pressurised Ana during their contract negotiations and plied her with alcohol during them. This was toned down a lot in the films. Whereas I do think the film’s portrayal of negotiated consent leaves a lot to be desired, I’m not going to complain about the fact that it is at least presenting the concept. Most films leave this step out altogether and it’s kind of important.

The “tender missionary love-making” is not an adaptation fail. At least, I don’t think so. OK, heterosexual, vaginal intercourse, where the woman is flat on her back is probably not what you’d expect from a book famous for its BDSM and subversive sex, but there is more to the sex scenes than just that one. So, if it fails as an adaptation, I don’t think it’s on account of the single missionary sex scene. (Though, whoever CGI’d the image of Christian and Ana onto the mirror above the bed needs a physics lesson on what a “mirror image” actually is.)

So what about the BDSM? Well, like the books, don’t treat the film as a BDSM manual. I’ll need to do some more information gathering before I can comment in detail but I’m aware that, for example, they ignored the advice of the rope consultant they had on set. I don’t watch films for their sex, so am probably not the best person to comment on its overall sexiness. Another fellow blogger, Alys B Cohen, did an interview with a random twitterer and fan of the books, asking what she made of the film. I found it an interesting read (and there’s a lot of interesting reading on Alys’ blog), though if you disagree with what the twitterer says, have the decency to not mimic Christian and go stalking her.

Is that it? Pretty much.

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