Here’s a fun game to play: imagine that you have no idea what Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey is about. Pretend that you’ve never heard of author E.L. James, or that you’re not aware of any casting kerfuffle surrounding the replacement of Charlie Hunnam by Jamie Dornan, or even that you know that Dakota Johnson is starring in the feature. Forget about Twilight and fan fiction and every trope that’s been layered on niche romance films over the past decade. Just get rid of all of that. (Some of you, we must note, probably already live in this state, but don’t worry, you can play, too – and you should!)
Now watch this first trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey. Genuine question – what the hell do you think is going on here?
You’re kind of freaked out, aren’t you? If you really don’t know anything about Fifty Shades of Grey (lucky you), it doesn’t seem entirely out of bounds to assume that Christian Grey (Dornan) is going to murder Anastasia Steele (Johnson), and that all this “sexy” lead-up is just a ruse to get her alone, get her weak, and just totally kill her.
No, Fifty Shades of Grey is not about murder – unless you’re the type of person who likes telling people that the French word for “orgasm” really means “a little death,” which already means you’re too cultured and worldly and interesting to subject yourself to this trash – it’s about sex. It’s also about power and the kind of power dynamics that are uncomfortable, weird, and omnipresent. This film is a lights-and-colors trigger warning.
James’ book series – which, never forget, started as Twilight fan fiction – centers on the goofy, doofy Anastasia, who quite obviously still holds a strong resemblance to Twilight’s Bella Swan. She’s clumsy and awkward, incapable of even sitting without looking like she wants to crawl right out of her own skin. This is our heroine. Our hero, if we’re going to call him that, is Dornan’s Christian Grey, a high-powered businessman who apparently never learned interview etiquette. When Anastasia comes to interview Christian for her school paper (it’s not even really her assignment, she’s helping out a sick friend, because how dare a leading lady have cool interests of her own), what starts as the most boring line of questioning ever turns into, well, it kind of turns into a sexual assault. Eventually, the pair stumble into a highly sexual relationship…and maybe more! ROMANCE!
There is a kernel of a fine idea here – that Anastasia, who doesn’t seem to feel much of anything, finds herself opened up to both the world and to Christian through sexual experiences – but the creepy power dynamics at play and the weirdo nefariousness of Christian “I Had a Sad Childhood, Wah Wah” Grey make the whole thing feel like it’s within inches of a big, bloody murder.
We’re freaked out, okay?
And, yes, Beyonce is still here, croaking out one of her most famous jams – literally croaking, why Beyonce, why — and making all of us feel crazy in the process. No, that’s not the love talking. That’s something else.
Fifty Shades of Grey opens on February 13, 2015.