Over the past weekend, the film “Fifty Shades of Grey” shattered records by grossing more than $94.4 million dollars over the four-day holiday weekend. Though Universal Studios had originally planned on releasing the film in October of 2014, the movement of the premiere to Valentine’s Day proved advantageous. Over the course of the weekend, one that is typically spent celebrating the longevity of healthy relationships, thousands of women — 68 percent of ticket sales — instead crowded into movie theaters.

Opposed to contributing to the fiscal success of the film, I instead committed myself to reading the first installment of E. L. James’ trilogy, “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The novel tells the story of Anastasia Steele, a young woman who — like myself — is no more than 22 years old, in the final moments of her undergraduate education and completing a degree in English literature. From there, the plot unravels.

The relationship maintained between Christian Grey — a disturbed young business magnate with supposedly out-of-this-world good looks — and Anastasia is overbearing, if not suffocating. After being interviewed by Anastasia for the school newspaper, Grey begins stalking her and tracking her phone, claiming his “affection” for her. And by affection, he means he desperately wants to physically assault her and chain her to all four posts of his bed. He determines that she should be his 16th submissive relationship, the terms and conditions of which grant him complete control over her sexually, as well as her eating and exercise habits, schedule and clothing choices.

I do not understand how it’s not blatantly clear that the relationship between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey is not one to be lusted after, and Christian Grey is not a man to be desired or fantasized about. The most antagonizing element of the novel, and presumably the film, is Ana’s insistence that she loves him. Though this adoration is almost entirely unrequited, Ana’s internal dialogue reads, “This is a man in need. His fear is naked and obvious, but he’s lost somewhere in the darkness … I can sooth him, join him briefly in the darkness and bring him into the light.”

No, Ana, you cannot bring him into the light, and this plot is as tiresome and repetitive as E. L. James’ attempts at dialogue. The storyline of “Fifty Shades of Grey” suggests to women that despite how dark or tortured a man is, if you endure his violence and abuse, you may have a shot at changing him. And if he’s rich, handsome and able to fly a helicopter? All the more reason to stay, because degradation is a small price to pay for material wealth. It suggests to men that continuously pushing a woman’s limits may ultimately yield in your favor, either once you’ve exhausted her with your badgering or poured her enough glasses of Prosecco. It suggests that sex is an act entirely intended for pleasure, and it need not be complicated by strong emotions or backed by a meaningful relationship.

When was being stalked, bullied and bribed into a domineering and physically violent relationship deemed a fantasy? This is not a fantasy. This is an example of behavior following which you call the police and request a restraining order. Sure, there are books two and three, in which Ana presumably has a positive effect on Christian, unearths his emotions and they engage in a “vanilla” relationship (one that Grey still obsessively controls) — but the damage of this first installment has been done. Even if the film adaptation tones down some of the more concerning elements, its production still perpetuates a subscription to the entire franchise.

Granted, the intrigue of the series is — no pun intended — seductive, and in a warped sense, E. L. James’ work could be considered groundbreaking. By all means, I’m an advocate for consensual and emotionally healthy sexual exploration, but as a woman who respects herself and her independence, I cannot in good conscience contribute my meager finances to the success of this film. Buying a ticket to the film would serve as a validation of the messages it sends — and as women lust after Christian Grey, I’m concerned that men may want to emulate his behavior. While some argue that the dramatic arc eventually criticizes the one-sided, emotionless behavior exhibited in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the commercialization of the trilogy into a line of sex toys and bondage kits is chilling.

In essence, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a poorly written, sexually explicit repeat of “Beauty and the Beast” that projects an outdated adage. Fix the beast and you can have the castle? Forget the beast, and buy your own castle.

Lauren McCarthy can be reached at laurmc@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.