Grayed Out Boundaries

I had no intention of addressing Fifty Shades of Grey , which was released in theaters in mid-February. The critics’ reviews seem generally poor. Much of the viewer reaction to the film (and the book) has to do with the thematic elements. While I have opinions about this enough has been said already on the matter. But as with Gone Girl the production of the film poses an issue which is different from themes presented, and distinguishes it from the book on which it is based. As noted in the earlier post, in order to practice and act out the scene the actors are crossing boundaries in ways that might be not characteristic of healthy, adult relationships.

So here we go again.

That the participants are aware of these boundaries on some level can show up in interview comments, such as what follows, from the March 2015 issue of Glamour Magazine*. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson had this to say:

“We left anything that was emotionally difficult or of a sexual nature until the last few weeks of filming. By that point we had time to get to know each other, to build that trust, which was important to be able to go into the next realm. Those days on set were calm, but you could definitely feel tension.”

If all of this is fine, why is there tension? It might be possible to attribute the tension to the uncomfortable thematic elements, but it seems to me the roots of the tension are shown in the following quote by actress Dakota Johnson:

“…if I can be an advocate for women to do what they want with their bodies and not be ashamed of what they want, then I’m all for that. My mom came up for a day [during filming]. She’s proud of me. But I don’t want my family to see [the movie], because it’s inappropriate. Or my brothers’ friends, who I grew up with. I think they’d be like, Blegh [mimics vomiting]. Also there’s part of me that’s like, I don’t want anyone to see this movie. Just kidding.”

So how is seeing this movie inappropriate for her family but somehow appropriate for a few million anonymous movie viewers?

a broken fence.
a broken fence.

The question I would like to pose for anyone considering watching this movie is this: do you personally know normal, psychologically healthy, people who could act in the production of simulated sex scenes, such as in Fifty Shades?

And if you think you do, let’s try flipping Dakota Johnson’s interview response around. Think about your sister, wife, mother, or daughter in the roles. If thinking about them in this way bothers you, that’s a good thing. It means you still have some healthy boundaries left.

*The interview is previewed here but is available in its entirety in Glamour 598, March 2015, pp 233-234

Gone Boundaries

While there are some films that really ought to be seen on a theater screen I can’t often bring myself to spend money on overpriced movie tickets. Last fall I relented and went to Gone Girl. The movie is coming around again through premium video services and is garnering awards. It’s a disturbing film, effectively layering deceit in a murder frame concocted inside the facade of a marriage.

I strongly recommend against seeing the film, any positive reviews notwithstanding. The simulated sex is the most disturbing aspect of the film, and one which the critics hardly mention.

Lest this comment be simply dismissed in a culture that has come to see such things as normal, it is not an objection to artistic use of the human body. It is not about putting clothes on Michelangelo’s David or painting over Renaissance nudes. Or for that matter, “cleaning up” the nudity in movies like Schindler’s List and Amistad. None of these need any such attention. It is not even about sex as a major plot element. An affair and its fallout, after all, is a theme in Anna Karenina.

This is different.

In an earlier time this would have been restricted to peep shows in unmarked bookstores and sleazy theaters in bad parts of town. But graphic scenes have been a part of mainstream film for several decades now, under the banner of artistic freedom. In the past I’ve walked out of movies that contained them. The only constructive thing about sitting through this film was actually thinking about what was wrong with it.

A very telling Glamour Magazine quote was picked up by ABC News. In it the lead actress Rosamund Pike described rehearsing a sex scene with actor Neil Patrick Harris:

“It was very funny doing [rehearsals for our sex] scene. [Director David Fincher] left Neil and me alone on that set for like two hours to make sure we could do it. But when it’s just two of you, basically kind of [having sex] on a bed, it feels so inappropriate.”

It felt inappropriate because it was inappropriate.

a broken fence.
a broken fence.

In order to practice and act out the scene the actors are working inside of boundaries that should only be crossed in private, within healthy adult relationships. We can argue at a cultural level about what that specifically might look like.  But the personal wreckage strewn about the film industry suggests that the ability to publicly* violate these boundaries might not be a sign of an emotionally healthy adult.

The scene in question ended in a murder that was concealed by what a Huffington Post writer described as “…a fake rape allegation in the hands of a sociopathic female…” So after herding the participants across their boundaries, the director then stands what we commonly understand about sexual violence on its head and assaults the audience with the whole package. It raises questions about the level of respect that David Fincher has for his viewers.

So what do we make of directors, writers, and producers that exploit intimate personal boundaries for money?

In another context they would be considered pimps. So what does that make me for paying money to see what they produce?

*The privatization of sex reaches way back in our social history. For a broad overview see Before The Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors (p. 168ff) / Nicholas Wade, Penguin Group US.