The first plot twist of the film adaptation of E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey has been released more than three months before the actual film will be. According to Jamie Dornan’s interview in the Guardian, there will be no male nudity.
It’s hard to critique a film’s artistic decisions without having seen the movie, but this revelation still comes as quite a surprise. Fifty Shades is a novel trilogy whose hook is sex, and kinky sex at that. Nevertheless, it looks like women around the world won’t be seeing one single glimpse of Christian Grey’s willy.
What was behind this decision by the filmmakers? Dornan explained it as this: “You want to appeal to as wide an audience as possible without grossing them out. You don’t want to make something gratuitous, and ugly, and graphic.” He goes on to say, “I’m aware of what we shot, and it wasn’t as if we shot a film without any action.”
Graphic sex scenes would be “grossing” women out? This move is not about shielding the eyes of its innocent viewers, but rather the filmmakers abandoning their base, just because Hollywood does not trust a sexualized female audience.
The film clearly caters to women in general and, specifically, those who have read the books. Its level of sexuality should not be a surprise to anyone who is already planning to see it in theaters. The books are clearly labeled erotic fiction and are filled with gratuitous and graphic sex. None of that stopped the novels from becoming overwhelmingly popular.
Gratuitous female nudity is incredibly prevalent in Hollywood, while male nudity remains fairly sparse. It’s so rare to see a big star nude that the Internet has been freaking out for an entire month about a glimpse of Ben Affleck’s penis in Gone Girl. Coming from an industry that makes quite a lucrative living from sexualizing women and even children, it’s telling that showing a full-frontal Jamie Dornan would perhaps be seen as “gratuitous, ugly, and graphic.”
However, if there’s one thing that the success of Magic Mike taught us, it’s that there is a demographic of women that are not afraid of sex at the movies. It’s an unfortunate mistake that director Sam Taylor-Johnson and Universal Pictures are abandoning the key elements of 50 Shades that garnered it so much success in the first place.
Of course, for female audiences, it’s about more than the “D.” In a 2010 study, scientists found that the female brain approaches nudity and pornography differently than the male brain does. Plenty of women indulge in porn, but they need more than just looking at naked dudes. Women tend to get turned on from multiple stimuli, like sexual elements combined with a storyline or a sensual situation. This is why a woman can derive from pleasure from sending a sext, but not necessarily from receiving one without much context.
Pornography is not generally heralded for its character development or intriguing storylines, which is one reason why women are not necessarily so eager to consume it with the same fervor as men. But 50 Shades of Grey offers the intersection of the two, providing women with three novels worth of sexual imagery and a plot. The film version could be like getting lost in the romance of The Notebook but also getting to indulge in every dirty detail of the Ryan Gosling sex scene.
But the real problem that 50 Shades of Grey has had since the beginning is the same reason you don’t see erotic fiction adapted to the big screen: Much of it is pretty terrible. Erotic fiction generally plays on the same themes as 50 Shades (especially the Bared To You series, which actually releases its fourth installment on November 18). Young woman meets a rich, incredibly handsome man with some sort of flaw or dark side, but the woman eventually changes him, and he finally becomes the perfect husband and family man. Along the way, he generally controls her every move, monitors everything she does NSA-style, dictates the trajectory of her career, and opens her up to a smorgasbord of things she’s not so comfortable with sexually along the way.
And, of course, they live happily ever after. Lather, rinse, and repeat.
Is it every woman’s fantasy to have her life be controlled by a hot rich guy who is kind of a jerk? In an essay for the Guardian, Sophie Morgan explained that the sex in 50 Shades of Grey isn’t sexy; it’s pretty abusive. Martin said, “A lot of what happens in the main relationship of 50 Shades of Grey is domestic abuse, both physical and emotional, and for people whose entire understanding of BDSM now comes from jiggle balls and rooms of pain this is a dangerous misconception to foster.”
And according to Martin, James’ book seems to be encouraging women to stay in such relationships, as long as the price is right. “Christian Grey may be a stalkerish sort with epic amounts of emotional baggage, but the accoutrements of wealth he offers—designer labels, helicopters and expensive gifts—are deemed enough that our virginal heroine should stick with him, endure his peccadilloes and keep trying to change him,” she said. “It’s very much focused on ending up married and settled and financially secure—Mills & Boon with butt plugs.”
On this note, feminist blogger Roxane Gay wrote that the basic problem with the fantasy in 50 Shades is that its not really about Ana’s happiness at all; instead, it’s “about a man finding peace and happiness because he finally finds a woman willing to tolerate his bullshit for long enough.”
Whether or not that’s actually the case, the erotic fiction industry sure seems to think it is. Hollywood agrees with the formula, but sans sex, so all we’re left with in movie form is a fantasy that doesn’t even involve all that much nookie.
Apart from these problematic aspects of the story, the quality of writing is absolutely atrocious. If you’ve read the book and have at least once in your life read a proper piece of well-written literature, you likely have a headache imagining what a task it likely was for someone to adapt this screenplay to something they wouldn’t have to publish under a pseudonym. You likely reacted to “James’ often alarmingly purple prose” or found it to be “an excusably bad book.” I personally just found myself drowning in clichés that were unfortunately repeated to infinity.
A pretty straightforward adaptation of the book would be almost an entire one hour of the two main characters repeating how much they loved each other and the other hour would be Ana thinking about how much she loved Christian. Take out all the sex in between and you have the set up for the most boring film ever made.
Instead of trusting women audiences to accept graphic nudity on film, the film’s creators have decided that they will allow women to consume sex on the pages of a book, but not to see sex in front of them on a giant movie screen. Until Hollywood realizes the flaw in their attitude, we’ll continue to be stuck with the same forgettable romantic comedies we get every year.
Sadly both for fans of the book and everyone else, that appears to be what they’re getting next Valentine’s Day weekend.
Photo via 50 Shades/Trailer