“He has a point, Christian. You’re very wealthy, and I’m bringing nothing to our marriage but my student loans.”
Christian gazes at me, his eyes bleak. “Anastasia, if you leave me, you might as well take everything. You left me once before. I know how that feels.”
— Fifty Shades Freed, p32
For context, that’s Christian Grey explaining why refuses to sign a pre-nuptial agreement with Ana. It’s another classic Fifty Shades moment which is trying to sound romantic and affectionate – but isn’t when you stop to think about it. Christian is saying his life isn’t worth living if he doesn’t have Ana.
No pressure then.
It’s not unsurprising that Christian is able to make all manner of promises of commitment to Ana, even though he is abusive towards her. He has, after all, no intention of losing her.
This mini-series on Choice, commitment and consent has four parts:
- Part 1 looked at how promise is important to understanding redemption.
- Part 2 looked at Christian’s promises in the first book of the trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey.
- Part 3 (this one!) looks at Christian’s promises in Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
- Part 4 will look at Ana’s promises in the trilogy.
Introducing Gollum and Frodo. As JRR Tolkien wrote them.
‘Take it off us! It hurts us.’
‘No, I will not take if off you,’ said Frodo, ‘not unless’ – he paused a moment in thought – ‘not unless there is any promise you can make that I can trust.’
— The Two Towers, The Taming of Sméagol
I confess. I don’t intend to watch the films of Lord of the Rings again. I loved them at first, but when I last saw all three extended editions, I found myself irritated by many things. The portrayal of Frodo was not the least of them.
For the uninitiated: (spoilers!) there is One Ring to rule them all. The small hobbit Frodo has agreed to carry it into the barren land of Mordor in order to destroy it. Frodo is resilient to the Ring’s evil, but is affected by it more and more. A once hobbit-like creature, Gollum, had the ring for unnaturally long years. It corrupted and consumed Gollum in that time. Neither Frodo nor Gollum will be truly free until the Ring is destroyed. They cross paths en route to the land of Mordor; after being restrained, Gollum asks Frodo to be released. Frodo doesn’t want to kill Gollum, but Frodo doesn’t trust Gollum.
Frodo therefore makes Sméagol (that’s Gollum’s original name) swear by the Ring to be good.
And they are travelling companions for a time, but later Sméagol breaks his promise, betrays Frodo and falls to his death in the volcanic fire of Mount Doom.
The truth about redemption
Lord of the Rings shows how a story can speak about redemption, even when a person isn’t redeemed:
- Gollum made a wrong choice in the past when he murdered a friend to get the Ring;
- Gollum was then in a ‘state of living death’;
- When Frodo meets Gollum, he pities him and makes a free choice from a position of privilege to try and help him;
- When Gollum rejects Frodo, Gollum faces his doom.
Despite Fifty Shades trying to be a redemption story, there are four telling comparisons to be made with of Lord of the Rings.
Comparison 1: Ana is blind to Christian’s character, but Frodo is kind to Gollum.
Frodo shows a lot of patience with Gollum, but in the chapter “The Black Gate Is Closed” Frodo makes it abundantly clear that he knows Gollum is treacherous and still wants to have the Ring. (That bit in the films when Frodo trusts Gollum tells his best friend to go home? Not in the books.) Gollum learns that Frodo might be kind, but he is not blind.
Similarly, Belle is the one person who truly “sees” in Beauty and the Beast because she knows not to judge by appearances.
Ana, however, doesn’t see Christian for who he is – despite thinking she does. Even though he’s played yo-yo with her emotions, she’s happy to sign a non-disclosure agreement without even reading it. This is not wise. I’ve written separately about how Ana is thoroughly groomed by Christian and there is no doubt that Christian is responsible for what he does to Ana. However, I also can’t help but conclude that she must be blind to his character.
And I don’t mean just at the start when she thinks he’s a “white knight”. I mean right the way through. What’s more, Ana is written to be a “smart, good woman” who can see what’s right and what’s wrong. But somehow, somehow, she believes that his controlling behaviours towards her are an expression of love.
No. That’s not how it works.
Comparison 2: Ana lacks wisdom, but Frodo retains leverage over Gollum
In the books, the reason why Frodo can trust Gollum’s promise on the Ring to behave, is because Frodo – should it come to it – could put on the Ring and order Gollum to his death. It’s not that Frodo wants to do this, but rather Frodo recognises there are bigger things at stake than just Gollum and What Gollum Wants. As I’ve written in another post:
If you want to teach a wretched person how to love, you need wisdom.
And yes, the name “Frodo” is from the Old English word “fród” meaning “wise.” The same can’t be said of Ana. As you’ll find in my post on privilege:
Belle fearlessly pursues her wellbeing, whilst Ana miserably abandons her wellbeing.
Ana isn’t wise.
Yes, in time, she learns how to use her sexuality to distract Christian from what he’s doing and even from abusing her. But that’s appeasing Christian’s abusive character; a wise redeemer would set boundaries to minimise the risk of harm.
This is essentially what Belle does when she runs away.
(For the record, I recognise that survivors of abuse may use many tactics, including appeasement, to manage their abuser’s behaviour. I’m not in any way criticising this. Survivors lack the privilege that redeemers have. My point is that a wise redeemer will often leverage their privilege to set boundaries.)
Comparison 3: Christian fails to trust Ana just as Gollum fails to trust Frodo
Redemption has a lot to do with a person trusting the faithfulness of their redeemer. Frodo was being faithful to Gollum in his mission to destroy the Ring. However, Gollum couldn’t trust that Frodo’s faithfulness would bring him freedom – and was doomed as a result.
Christian thinks that Ana might doom him by choosing to leave. But if he had any understanding of redemption he’d know that it’s his choice not to trust Ana that dooms him.
But what about Ana’s reckless behaviour? Christian often complains that Ana doesn’t take care of herself properly and I’ve even said the same myself (see above).
When I read about Ana riding to the shore on Christian’s jet-ski in Fifty Shades Freed (without his permission and having never ridden one before), for example, I can’t help but feel that one of the reasons why Ana feels the need to exercise her own agency in such an overt way is because Christian is controlling her the whole time.
But Christian doesn’t ease off Ana and let her live her own life for one simple reason: Christian has no understanding of what it means trust in another person’s faithfulness.
Comparison 4: Christian wants to have Ana just as Gollum wants to have the Ring
Fifty Shades is not about Christian learning to live on Ana’s terms. It’s about Christian giving Ana just enough of what she wants that will allow him to keep hold of her.
Sure, near the beginning of Fifty Shades Freed we see him getting misty-eyed over the marks he created on Ana’s body, like he’s beginning to realise that hurting women might not be such a fabulous thing. But the real darkness in Christian’s soul is his desire for control – his desire to completely possess Ana. Because she’s his Precious.
In other words, Christian sees himself as being redeemed so long as he has Ana. In this respect he is no better than Gollum in his hankering after the Ring.
When you think about it, Fifty Shades doesn’t have a happy ending. Christian is in the relationship because he wants Ana to complete him. He isn’t free because he can’t live without her. If their marriage is short-lived and Ana dies suddenly, Christian is doomed. And even if their marriage lasts a long time, it will be marred by his fear of losing her. Like how we see in Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.
Beast, on the other hand, overcomes his two vices. First, he learns how to be selfless, letting Belle go. Second, he learns to control his temper, even to the point of showing Gaston mercy. If Beast had died on the balcony, it would have been a heart-wrenching ending, but we would have known his heart and character had been redeemed. Beast’s redemption was not about being with Belle at the end. It was about change within himself.
Conclusion: Christian trusts in his own faithfulness
This might be the biggest problem with Fifty Shades – and it hides in plain sight.
For all his talk about how he’s an awful person that Wonderful Ana couldn’t want to be with, Christian still thinks the relationship should be on his terms. He thinks he knows what’s right and he’s prepared to control Ana to make sure she does what he thinks is good for her.
He masks this using words like “protect” and “cherish” but not even they can completely hide his blatant hypocrisy.
He clamps down on Ana’s behaviours because they are problematic for him more than they are for her. Not only that, but he severely chastises Ana for not being at their apartment like he wanted her to be, even though she would have been seriously harmed and possibly killed if she had been there (FSF chapters 10 and 11).
Whatever Christian is, he is not protective. But still he trusts himself because Christian defines faithfulness in terms of control.
No, it doesn’t work like that.
Bitter sweet and strange,
Finding you can change,
Learning you were wrong.
— Beauty and the Beast (1991)
This is the tenth post in a series on redemption, comparing Beauty and the Beast with Fifty Shades. You can find an index of all the posts here.