I never thought I would be writing “like” and “50 Shades of Grey” in the same sentence.
Like everyone else on Earth, I had heard about the book. I even attempted to read it when given a free copy by my 80-something-year-old boss who mistook the cover of the book for another book by noted British feminist and writer, Caitlin Moran, and had already read the first two chapters before he called me to say, “Kim, I don’t think this is the book you recommended.”
I tried to read the book, but couldn’t get past the first chapters due to the cheesy dialogue and rather unbelievable content, like a college student living in the 21st century who didn’t have email.
As someone who reviews movies for a syndicated public radio show, I knew there was a good chance I would be asked to review it.
As it turns out, I was, so I spent the part of last Sunday afternoon watching it in the theatre with a fairly large amount of other people ranging in age from late teens to those who appeared to be well into their 70s.
I was prepared to hate it, but I did not.
Granted, it isn’t a perfect movie. It’s probably never going to be a classic along the lines of Gone with the Wind, but given the material she had to work with, I thought director Sam Taylor-Johnson did a very good job. (I will also freely admit that it helped that actor Jamie Dornan was easy on the eyes as the protagonist/BDSM enthusiast, Christian Grey.)
Despite the controversy both from many in the BDSM (Bondage & Discipline, Sadism & Masochism) community who argue that it is not an accurate depiction and those who claim that it glorifies abusive relationships, I thought there was one good take away from the film: namely, sex or any sort of relationship without intimacy is ultimately not fulfilling.
It also made me think of my own “Christian Greys,” by which I am not referring to men who were into BDSM but men who were scared to be vulnerable.
Perhaps it was just the postpartum hormones (I gave birth to my second child nine weeks ago), but the scene in the movie where Ana reached out to touch Christian’s face only to have him flinch away brought tears to my eyes.
I had a very similar thing happen to me with a man who was smart, talented and whom I shared a strong physical and emotional connection with, yet he could not allow himself to be vulnerable.
Much like Ana’s situation, my guy had had some difficult childhood traumas. Also like her’s, the most painful times were right after we had a fun time together or had just been physically intimate, and he pulled away both emotionally and physically because things were “getting too serious.” I also recall asking, just like she does, why he would not let me get close to him, which would only cause him to shut down more.
However, unlike Ana’s situation, mine did not end happily. (Sorry to spoil it for those who haven’t read all three novels.)
Instead, it ended with fruitless attempts on my part to try and break down the wall he built around his heart. Eventually, we parted ways and while I have no idea if the woman he took up with after me ever succeeded in breaking down that wall, my gut instinct says probably not.
While very few of us are likely to ever meet someone with looks, charm and billions in the bank, many of us do meet someone we are immensely attracted to and in love with, but cannot or will not allow themselves to achieve full intimacy. And it’s very unlikely they will ever change. In most cases, not even the love of a good woman or good man can change them.
Indeed, I wonder if that—rather than the steamy sex—is the main reason why 50 Shades became such a big bestseller: The protagonist does indeed change, thanks to the love of a good woman.
Speaking from experience, I actually find that scenario of the formerly walled off man opening his heart far more seductive and alluring then even the idea of being with a hot, young billionaire who despite running a highly successful business can still squeeze in plenty of time for mind-blowing sex.
Still, much like 50 Shades is fantasy, so is that—or at least in the majority of cases.
However, if 50 Shades does deserve any credit, it should get it for depicting just how frustrating and unfulfilling it can be to be with an emotionally distant person even if they are wonderful in so many other ways; or, in case of Christian Grey, can fulfill all material wants and needs at the drop of a hat.
Therefore, for all the negativity it is getting from some, I wish even the harshest critics could see that it is possible to see the movie as a cautionary tale of sorts. While so much of the premise is fantastical, the toll of being with such a person is 100 percent grounded in reality.
When we find ourselves in that situation, the best thing to do is be our own hero and rescue ourselves. Maybe our prince or princess may eventually come around or change, but they need to do. We cannot do it for them.
Author: Kimberly Lo
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Movie Still