Whose Gaze Is It Anyway?


Ok, so. I went to see 50 Shades of Grey last night. Here’s my quick take:

Wow, did this movie need more cock.

This is a story, ostensibly, that hinges on a man who likes to “fuck. And fuck hard” (Yes, Jamie Dornan actually says that, in the least convincing way possible). And yet, we never see Dornan-as-Grey’s dick, not even for a second. Yes, the film’s rated R, which usually means no male full frontal, though 98% full female nudity? Totally fine.

However, one of the major selling points for this story has been its emphasis on female pleasure, implicitly the heteronormative (or at least cock-appreciating kind), making the utter absence of Dornan’s dick kind of bewildering. Notably, Dornan does wear these ridiculously low-slung and stylishly ripped jeans during the scenes in his sex dungeon/playroom—hot damn yes, he looks good—but the fuckers never come all the way off. Perfect metaphor for the movie.


Yeah, we never get to see this in the film.

Wither the female gaze, movie?! Wither the female gaze?

Given that the book is told from Ana’s first person POV, I assumed that the film would take a similar, female-gaze centered perspective: that there would be lingering looks at the gorgeous Dornan at every turn, or even some open-mouthed object porn staring at his extravagant apartment, his playroom, etc. But no.

Instead, the focus was awkwardly on elements of Dakota Johnson-as-Ana’s body: seemingly hundreds of shots of her biting her lip, for example—“You know what that does to me,” Dornan says at one point, in the least sexy way possible—and many, many lingering looks at her ass, which hey, was perfectly lovely, but. To me, these choices suggested that Dornan-as-Grey had more control over the camera’s gaze than did Ana, even though the movie is ostensibly her story. Oy.

But weirdest of all were the movie’s sex montages. First, these sequences had pacing problems; they were alternately too slow and utterly lacking in sexual tension (including a slow-mo bit towards the end that had me cringing), or went by too quickly, as if the director was trying to jam in (heh) as many of the book’s sex scenes as possible into a 60-second span. They were visual representations of a kink bingo card, basically, busily checking off the boxes: Rope? Check. Leather cuffs? Check. Flogger? Got that one, too. Snore.

Second, they were too quiet. Yes, Dornan-as-Grey keeps telling Ana to be quiet when they’re fucking (for reasons that I wasn’t clear on–maybe it’s in the books?), but even when the film was “showing” Ana experiencing pleasure, she orgasmed like a goldfish: with a silent, floppy mouth.


Again, how does this suggest that women are the targeted audience for this film?!

It was like they were having sex in a sterile cage wrapped in noise dampeners. Gak.

Admittedly, there was one scene that I found hot, and it was the one where Dornan was the mouthiest and the most out of control. And dude ripped a condom open with his teeth! Yes. Yatzhee for me. But that was about 90 seconds out of 120 minutes, so the memory of that hot got drowned out in all the dull sex and terrible dialogue that was to come.

As a whole, the sex scenes made me feel bad for Johnson; she’s not a porn actress, which is fine, and yet she gets cast in a porno that’s had its balls cut off and still has to try to be convincing. But it has been done, by other actresses in other films: Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, for example. Terrible movie, sure, but she managed to look like she’s having a great fucking time. Johnson looked like she was doing the best that she could, like a woman trying to please her partner by playing along but so not enjoying herself. Again, maybe that’s appropriate re: the source material? I don’t know.

And Dornan? God, he looked miserable. Even when they weren’t fake-fucking, he had the air of a horse afraid of the whip. By the end, I wanted to take them both home and give them warm blankets and tea.

The sex acts themselves weren’t the problem for me, although to describe them as “kinky” seemed like a bit of a stretch. It was more that the sex looked so completely and utterly joyless. I’ve seen mainstream, super-problematic sexist porn that looked WAY more fun than what Ana and Grey were getting up to.

I think that’s what surprised me most about this film, given all of the “hurray female pleasure” hoohah I’ve read about it (and even written a little bit about myself):

There was no joy in this work.

Not a drop. Hell, there was more energy and excitement in the theater during the gleefully bawdy 60-second preview for Magic Mike XXL than the entire 120-minutes of 50 Shades.

Maybe that was part of the problem: 50 Shades takes itself too seriously. Had it gone the Magic Mike route and been at least a little bit cheeky, a little more in on the joke, a little more knowing that what was happening was kind of ridiculous, yeah, but oh shit, isn’t it fun? that would have served the audience and the film a lot better.

Look, female pleasure is messy. It’s not easily captured in a money shot. It shows up in the body, sure, but you have to know when and how to look. And female pleasure, gods bless it, is wonderfully complicated; it involves both the body and the mind in a way that’s different than it is for dudes. As such, we need more than to see a naked woman getting stroked with a feather or getting fucked while suspended to get hot: we need sensuality, man. A sense of desire, that thrill of the dirty-hot-wrong. For me, this movie had none of those things, and in fact worked hard to negate them at every turn.

And the last 10 seconds of the film? Good lord. Here’s a tip, directors: leaving your audience going WTF?! may not be the best approach. Like, I know that you’re trying to get us back in the theaters for part II, but seriously? No.

…all that said, I’d totally read slash fic about Grey and his super-hot bodyguard driver, Taylor. Dude who played Taylor was fucking gorgeous in that slightly ginger sort of way:


Yes sir. Sign me up.


5 thoughts on “Whose Gaze Is It Anyway?

  1. Ok you made me laugh at myself.
    I assumed this was from female gaze because I’m not convinced it was from the male point of view. You don’t think so.
    Perhaps it’s just a bad movie.
    Or perhaps film classification takes the male gaze.

  2. Ha! Very good! Have not read the books nor seen this movie (I’ve made it a point to not.) But I love this. You are spot-on about the female v. the male pleasure.

    Home run, I say!

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