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50 Shades of Grey: A New Frontier in Kink on Film?

The latest blockbuster to hit the silver screen, we review the movie “50 Shades of Grey” and discuss its themes and artistic merits in a Lovepanky style. By Philip Hegarty

50 Shades of Grey: A New Frontier in Kink on Film?

A couple of years ago now, a strange phenomenon occurred in offices up and down just about every country on the planet. Many believed it was a kind of mass hysteria, some kind of mind control that led women to convene in huddled groups, giggling and whispering, conveying awed reverence in their looks and words for the secret subject of whatever it was so deserving of their adoration.

Some believed it was a cult of some kind, based upon the fact that a revered tome, some venerable grimoire, always held sway at the centre of their midsts. Of course, we now know that the tome in question was none other than the notorious, and much discussed, 50 Shades of Grey.

The big screen

There’s probably some goat herder living in a straw hut somewhere up in the Himalayas who isn’t aware of the recent movie adaptation of the books, but the rest of us have no doubt been subject to the same barrage of advertising, to ensure that the fact hadn’t escaped our collective notice. Targeted at an adult audience, the subject matter fits very much into the Lovepanky field of fascination. So, in order to give you, our readers *specifically male readers on this occasion* a heads up, we have provided here a review of the movie and an informal exploration of its themes.

The synopsis

The story revolves around the exploits of one Christian Grey, a millionaire with rather extreme sexual tastes and the sado-masochistic relationship that he attempts to form with the female object of his desires, Anastasia Steele, a university student who interviews him in place of a sick friend. Wildly disturbed for a number of reasons that become apparent as the story progresses, Grey attempts to seduce Steele into his world of whips, chains and other machinations of mild torture, though having to overcome her fairly resistant attitude towards his sexual proclivities along the way.

The critics

The reception to the movie has been mixed to say the least and, yes, there are some flaws with it. The character development isn’t quite on the ball, to be honest. In the modern media universe, standards have changed regarding the way that characters are handled, main and peripheral, with TV studios and channels such as HBO and Netflix upping the game and putting the movie studios to shame on many an occasion.

This is one such occasion. The character Anastasia never quite does enough to draw the audience in, not quite deserving of empathy or interest. Grey’s character is a little stronger, but still somewhat mono-dimensional and not quite brooding enough to really have us on the edge of our seats. The relationship between them still manages, however, to be quite intense, although there is more than a little self-consciousness in how this is played out.

What we want!

Let’s face it, the plot and character development is less important to most movie goers attending a showing of this particular Hollywood offering than is the well-advertised steamy goings on within. On that front, the film doesn’t do too much to disappoint. Readers of the book may feel that it is overly tame but, let’s face it, there’s only so much that a mainstream movie can get away with, and it gets away with just about as much as it can.

From this perspective, the sex scenes are indeed steamy, raunchy and quite adventurous. You do have to be patient though. It takes until around the 35th minute mark to get even a sniff of Mr Grey’s singular tastes, and there are only four real sex scenes – two of which are typical Hollywood, one which contains very mild bondage and only the last providing any sort of a taste of sado-masochism. So if you’re after an S&M porn-fest, then you may wish to turn back to the PC instead!

The ideal audience

If, as already stated, you are an experienced S&M master or mistress looking for an extreme visual thrill, this really isn’t for you. Realistically speaking, it never could have been, what with the current viewing restrictions that are fairly much in place across the globe. What it does do well, however, is to provide a really interesting taster of that whole scene in a situation where the deep end first approach just isn’t appropriate.

Maybe you’re already fairly au-fait with the scene, for example, but are trying to gently introduce to it a new object of your interests in as an innocuous fashion as possible. Maybe you’re completely new to the scene yourself, but are curious as to what exactly it entails. Either way, it is a great medium for exploring S&M and also introduces some key concepts for those wishing to indulge for the first time in good, fun and safe bondage play. [Read: 14 tips to help your partner open up about sex]

Key concepts

50 Shades of Grey, although its content has been somewhat restricted due to the breadth of audience it may come into contact with, nonetheless provides a perfect starter kit for the interested but inexperienced S&M wannabe. The following paragraphs then specifically outline the most relevant and salient of these points.

#1 The S&M spectrum. There are as many shades of S&M as there are shades of Grey, scaling newer, more daring and even more dangerous heights at every turn. These range from mild domination, to extreme pain and torture. One of the sex scenes in 50 Shades shows the former, with Anastasia tied to a bed and blindfolded while Grey strokes her skin with fingers and runs an ice cube seductively over her body.

At the more extreme end, he has her fastened aggressively back upon the bed with steel fittings, before he later whips her body with a flogger, a short whip with a number of tails. Some couples find themselves working their ways up the spectrum over time, as their interest levels fail regarding milder activities, while some stick with one level and never deviate from it. What is important is that any movement made from one level to the other is accepted happily by both parties involved.

#2 The roles. For any kind of domination or S&M to work properly, the roles have to be clearly defined. As a rule of thumb, there should always be one dominant and one submissive partner. Although in advanced S&M there are variations upon these roles also. It’s fine swapping these roles around from time to time, and that is usually what happens actually, but it can all go wrong when both halves of the couple are avowedly of the same designation.

If you really can’t find any pleasure in playing the opposite to your partner’s chosen role, then things probably aren’t going to be very much fun for anyone and in the film, there is no doubt for a second as to who is playing what part. Of course, you could always bring in a third person to play the neglected position, so that you can both enjoy your favoured role together. [Read: 10 tips on how to have uncomplicated three-way fun]

#3 The tools of the trade. Whips, handcuffs, strap-on dildos, floggers, nipple clamps, costumes, gags, restraints, eye masks, electro rods, f*cking machines, butt plugs, cock cages, spanking paddles: the S&M item list is endless.

The trick is to take a tip out of Grey’s book, and learn to walk before you can run. Learn about the various levels of discomfort, pain and/or pleasure each causes, and introduce them in a gentle and gradual fashion. Turning up on a first date with a gimp mask, cattle prod and cat o’ nine tails is more likely to earn you a criminal record, or at least a swift kick in the testicles, than another notch on the bedpost!

#4 The contract. In the film, Grey approaches Anastasia with a contract, negotiating all the sexual deviations that they are both willing to submit to. The idea’s a novel one, although quite clever if you think about it, but the principle is quite clear: you must both have a clear idea prior to ensuing upon sado-masochistic sex of how far you are willing to go and where the boundaries lie.

Even then, agreed activities may sometimes seem too much to cope with, in the heat of the actual moment itself, and there needs to be a mechanism in place to call proceedings to a halt, if one of the involved couple is feeling uncomfortable – especially where bondage and restraint are involved. In this case, the couple should agree on a safety word prior to sex, a word that if shouted out, stops everything in its tracks and obliges the dom partner to release the sub. [Read: 15 dirty ways to have the best rough sex ever]

This is usually something unusual and out of place, chiefly because part of the joy of domination is in intentionally ignoring words like “no” and “stop” as part of the process. Of course, such things do have to be agreed between both partners, before even thinking of beginning the act itself. [Read: 10 tips to help you open up about your kinky side]

Not for no reason has “50 Shades of Grey” reached new levels of cinematic notoriety. As a beginner’s guide to S&M, it plays a great part. However, if its only significance to you is that you just fancy viewing something a bit sexy and sensual, then our advice is to get yourself to the cinema and watch it. Be careful though, you may never look at sex quite the same again!

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Philip Hegarty
Currently reclining with a peaceful and contented smile upon his face, with perhaps just a hint of mystery and steely resolve, Philip Hegarty has an obviously i...
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