Fifty Shades of Grey

By Eden van der Moere

Disclaimer: This review evaluates one aspect of the film and does not make any concrete value judgments about the highly disputed content. We encourage people to watch the film for themselves and read more related articles and reviews to form their own opinions. © 2014 – Universal Pictures

On Valentine’s Day 2015, the probably most controversial and most anticipated film of the year was released. Based on the international bestseller by E.L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey follows the relationship between literature student Anastasia Steele and the mysterious billionaire Christian Grey. Their relationship is intense, with euphoric highs and devastating lows. At its core, there is the key element of the book’s unbelievable success: the BDSM-relationship between Anastasia and Christian.

Ever since James’ novel was released in 2011, the story of Ana and Christian has been a controversial topic. One reason for debate is the high amount of explicit sex scenes in the book. Christian is a Dominant, who practices BDSM in his “Red Room of Pain”, whereas Ana is a virgin, who has never had a romantic relationship before. The BDSM aspect of the book has drawn a lot of criticism, because according to some BDSM participants, it is not portrayed accurately in the book, giving its readers a false perception. According to these participants, Fifty Shades of Grey would portray BDSM as abuse, which is the second reason for debate and controversy. The story of Christian and Ana would glorify abusive relationships, as well as sexual violence and emotional blackmailing.


Despite the criticism and controversies, the book was an enormous success with over 100 million copies sold worldwide. The book’s immense popularity drew the attention of the film industry, which led to a highly anticipated adaptation. Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, the film was released February 13, 2015. As was to be expected, Fifty Shades of Grey was a box office hit, with a worldwide gross of over 420 million dollars, and reviews ranging from crushingly negative to reluctantly positive criticism. Reluctant because, despite all the debate both the book and the film has caused, Fifty Shades of Grey is actually a good film, with qualitatively high visual images.


Ultimately, Fifty Shades of Grey is an adaptation, which means that its story line is based on the book by E.L. James. Most negative criticism is targeted towards the story and condemns the same issues as the book was criticized with, such as an inaccurate portrayal of BDSM and the glorification of abusive relationships. However, should an adaptation be criticized for being an accurate adaptation, meaning that the film stays true to the original material by E.L. James?


Fifty Shades of Grey is a visually good film. It is not perfect, it will not win any Oscars and it will not be the best film of the year, but it is certainly not a bad film. In fact, it is an unbelievably great achievement of director Taylor-Johnson and her team to turn one of the most critically trashed books into classy, stylish and, above all, high quality, visuals. Above all other aspects, film is about the visual material; the graphic picture that is shown, the purely visual image. When applying this theory to Fifty Shades of Grey, the visuals are, in fact, stunning. It looks classy, it looks stylish, it looks rich and, at times, even beautiful. Director Taylor-Johnson gave the film a clean look and clearly put thought into turning the original material into something more, without losing sight of the initial story line. She presents us a story about two completely different people, their collision, and, ultimately, their downfall. This difference is visualized in a very delicate and thoughtful way. For example, there is a stark contrast between Ana’s world and Christian’s and this is shown through the visuals. Ana’s apartment is messy and colourful, with flowery prints and soft textures; it represents who she is, a shy literature student who loves drinking tea and reading novels. This image stands in a sharp contrast to Christian’s world, which is portrayed as clean and organized, with simple yet impressive looking costumes and settings. Whereas Ana’s world is full of colour, Christian’s is grey and dim. When the two characters collide, the visual images collide as well. The sharpness and cleanness of Christian’s world is matched with Ana’s lacy and flowery textures,
providing a beautiful contrast.


The nudity in Fifty Shades of Grey is, naturally, very present, but it is never portrayed disrespectfully or indecently. Of course, the respectability and decency of the actual sex and the BDSM aspect of these scenes is debatable, but the way these scenes are portrayed is stylish and respectful towards the story line, the actors and the audience.


Apart from the visual aspect of the film, the acting is another element that makes Fifty Shades of Grey a good film. Dakota Johnson, who portrays Anastasia Steele in the film, is outstanding. She is every bit of the Ana from the book; she is awkward, she is quirky, she is shy, but at the same time, she also has this tiny spark that makes her a somewhat interesting character. In the book, Ana’s character was rather flat and not very inspiring, but Johnson manages to turn Ana into a good, round character. It is a limited role, but Johnson got everything out of it she possibly could. Johnson’s co-star, Jamie Dornan, despite the fact that he clearly has some struggles with portraying a Dominant with serious issues, does a fine job. His acting is not outstanding, but decent and, at times, even interesting.


Ultimately, Fifty Shades of Grey can be called a good film, because of the high quality of the visual images, the thoughtful and respectful cinematography and the favourable performances, especially by Dakota Johnson. Criticism and controversies considering the content aside, audiences should watch Fifty Shades of Grey themselves to form their own opinion about the film.


Eden van der Moere, class of 2017, is an Arts and Humanities major from Goes, The Netherlands.

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