Celluloid Psychology – 50 Shades Darker

50 Shades of?Not What I Expected

50 Shades Darker is the sequel to the first film in the series, 50 Shades of Grey. Not much has changed from the previous film; Christian (Jamie Dornan) remains a billionaire with lots of money and Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) is working for a publishing firm after quitting her position at Mr. Grey’s office. After a hiatus in their relationship, he corners her at an art show, where he pressures her to have dinner with him.

Before I continue with the analysis and in-depth discussion of the film, I will mention the tone I gathered from others; “ug, poor story, poor movie, not worth watching an abusive relationship be glamorized” (Roney, 2015). This tone is consistent with readings of other articles from journalists reviewing the film. These criticisms confuse me, as the book series is so popular. Why are people complaining about the film’s story line? The film and the book have the same story line, so what is causing them to be disappointed? What were people expecting to be different?

I’m writing through the lens of a student studying high conflict divorce and healthy relationships in psychology. It may differ from the previous Voice Magazine article, “50 Shades of Ugh“. For example, that article notes how “Someone who participates in the BDSM lifestyle discusses the misrepresentation of that lifestyle, which is based around consent. This book series, and now movie, are glorifying?even romanticizing?emotional and sexual abuse. The message this ‘story'” sends is disturbing at best.”

From viewing the film and reading some of the 50 Shades series, I question whether this is truly the message this story sends. Does it really glorify and embolden abusive relationships? Or is the story being taken too literally? I argue that there is no glamour here, only tragic, dark, and shady illusions. That is, this story intentionally cautions the hazards of falling for the shiny and glossy image of the desirable, dominant man. He embodies all qualities which AU psychologists, Sandra Collins and Nancy Arthur, claim to fit as the desirable, dominant stereotype; white, heterosexual, Christian, Anglo-saxon, able-bodied, attractive, male, high socio-economic status, and so on (Collins & Arthur, 2010). Christian Grey’s male-dominant behaviour is familiar within our social conscience as men of his privilege are historically allowed several invasive dating privileges. How is this still an issue with the waves of feminism today and so much of what has been accomplished? The answer is that we are prone to internalizing oppressive, dominant aspects of the western culture. In other words, oppressive ideals and propaganda are passed down from past generations and become internalised by future generations. Thus, the idea of sexism is not absent or far from our conscience. We do not need to go far to find an article on these issues in current society.

I argue that this film challenges our latent internalizations of these past ideals and the confusing dating paradigm we face with dating and hook- up sites like Tinder, Plenty of Fish, OkCupid and so on. Let’s take a moment to consider how these dating websites work. A person has a profile on display that they leave for others to view and decide whether or not that person is enticed to make a connection. You swipe right if you are interested in that person based on their appearance, hobbies, relationship goals, or interests, but if You’re not, you just swipe left and they’re gone. The problem with this anonymous profiling method is the meeting experience is artificial and depersonalised. That is, we seek out people based on an image of what they portray themselves to be online; we already have this illusive ideal of the person before we actually meet them of who they are. This is poignant to the story behind the 50 Shades series because the relationship between Mr. Grey and Anastasia is based on ideal and plays on that false, or, artificial concept of an ideal romance. We could just say the story of 50 Shades depicts an abusive relationship and move on, or we can explore the purpose behind why artists presented such an obscene story line about this torrid relationship.

Artists are thinkers who engage in conversations with the world through portrayal of the concepts they create. The way the story is set out, portrayed, and delivered is deliberate and intentional, and, like any fairy tale, legend, or myth, has some message or call to its purpose.

Viewing the 50 Shades series (in film or book form) makes more sense when acknowledging it as a non-literal story. For example, we read stories like Alice in Wonderland to our children as fantasy, and this fulfills the purpose of delivering its intended message to our own realities. Conversely, if we magnify what we dislike, we can lose the message behind the story. It’s simple to get distracted over how Alice can change sizes, or that she ran away down a rabbit hole. But this would block us from discovering the magic and meaning behind the overall symbolic message of the story: Alice fell and got lost in the maze of her own internal world. To climb out of her rabbit hole, she had to make it through her confusing internal mazes, conquer the beast inside, and find the courage to get back into the world. Moral of the story? She overcame her challenges and found the courage to face herself. Did she change sizes and climb down a rabbit hole? Sure, but that wasn’t the focus of the message behind the story; this was just a vehicle used to convey a message or point. Abuse is an aspect of 50 Shades, however it is not the main message behind the story.

Next week, Celluloid Psychology will tie things up with the second part, where we remove the blindfold to explore the psychology behind the main message of 50 Shades Darker.

References:Collins, S., & Arthur, N. (2010). “Culturally sensitive working alliance.” In Arthur, N., & Collins, (Eds.), Culture Infused Counselling (pp. 103-138). Calgary, Alberta: Counselling Concepts.Frank, V. E. (1986). The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy. New York: Vintage Books.Roney, D. (2015). “50 Shades of Ugh”. The Voice Magazine, 23 (8). Retrieved from https://www.voicemagazine.org/search/searchdisplay.php?ART=10248

Melanie is a second-year Masters student studying Counselling Psychology at AU. She is fascinated by pop culture and uses a critical lens of examining its meaning in the context of modern psychology.