by Miss Alice Gray at Kinkly.com.
In the past year or so, everyone, their mothers and their dogs have had an opinion about who should be cast in the upcoming “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie. Opinions about the actors that have or haven’t been chosen have been flying fast and furious for months, but I think there’s a bigger issue afoot here, and that’s how true the movie will be to the book upon which it’s based. And really, how true do movie-goers really want this movie to be anyway?
[ed. Fan-made trailer for a movie based on a book based on fan fiction? Sure! Why Not?]
Now before you “Fifty Shades” fans jump in and say that the movie should preserve this book’s sex scenes in all their glory, let’s think about what that means. After all, I think we’ve all had that gloriously awkward moment when a sex scene comes on TV during a movie we’ve been absentmindedly watching, your family is in the room watching, and everyone just kind of coughs or starts up a conversation about how great the weather’s been lately.
When you read erotica, you get aroused. That’s the point of the genre. Which is just fine, because books are enjoyed privately. The experience is personalized too. Reading allows you to view things in your mind’s eye, and gloss over the things that don’t interest you – a privilege you don’t have when you’re paying to watch a movie in a theatre with a hundred other people.
For example, as I was flipping through the various sex scenes in the books, I came across one that is cringe-worthy to most people on paper, let alone on a 20-foot high screen:
“When did you start your period, Anastasia?” he asks out of the blue, gazing down at me.
“Err… yesterday,” I mumble in my highly aroused state.”Good.” He releases me and turns me around.
“Hold on to the sink,” he orders and pulls my hips back again, like he did in the playroom, so I’m bending down. He reaches between my legs and pulls on the blue string …what! And … gently pulls my tampon out and tosses it into the nearby toilet. Holy fuck. Sweet mother of all … Jeez.”
Sweet mother of all jeez indeed; if this was just a throwaway scene, we could be reasonably assured it wouldn’t make the movie, but there’s a fair bit of build-up to this particular tampon-pulling sexiness.
It isn’t that this scene isn’t sexy, per se. I’ve had sex during my period, my partner has pulled a tampon out of my body before sex and, yes, I’ve experienced everything described in this scene. But no, dear god no, I don’t want to see this on screen.
There is just no way to make this sexy, outside of a niche audience.
While this scene may well be deleted from the movie, there are many others that would have to be kept to keep some semblance of a plot line going. Plus, while the awkwardness of a solitary sex scene soon passes in a “mainstream” movie, how will the book’s target audience feel about watching two hours of sex, up close and personal? There’s a fine line between mainstream appeal and “too raunchy,” a line that the book straddles perfectly due to its use of vague language. Author E.L. James may craft steamy scenes, but her language is never vulgar, and it makes for easy reading for people who would normally never read erotica. However, whether you call it “my sex” or “my vulva” or something more risqué on screen, it’s the exact same body part, and how you show it will determine the audience’s reaction to the movie.
We’ve come to expect that movie adaptations of books will be far from faithful; after all, there’s a lot of material that needs to be kept within the confines of 1.5 – 2.5 hours. Normally this just results in some grumbling from die-hard book fans, but in the case of a book whose plot line is flimsy at best, these adaptations could turn out badly. And if you remove the sex scenes from the “Fifty Shades” movie, there is a strong possibility that it will simply come across as creepy: A power, rich, older man relentlessly pursues and stalks a younger woman, using his money and power to manipulate those around her and grant him better access to her until she succumbs.
If that sounds like the plot line for a horror movie, there’s a simple reason for that: “Fifty Shades of Grey” is supposed to be about the sex! Its plot line is much like the kind you find in a porn movie: It’s flimsy, it’s lame and it’s really only there to kill some time before the next sex scene. (If you loved the sex scenes, read 5 Extraordinary Sex Tips Women Can Learn from 50 Shades of Grey.)
Many scenes in the book could be played as romantic, but Christian’s tendency to ignite arguments – and Ana’s tendency to give in to appease him – will leave a bitter taste in many women’s mouths.
The question of how much sex to portray, and how to portray a relationship that has already been lambasted by the media as being abusive, is a big one in an industry where the main goal is to recoup costs and make a profit.
Oh, and there’s one more problem this movie could face: How it’s rated. As you might imagine, the number of tickets sold to a movie is highly dependent on the rating it gets from the Federal Communications Commission. A family friendly movie has a much wider audience reach than an R-rated one, but even an R-rated movie will fare better than one rated NC-17, simply because more cinemas will be playing it, and with fewer restrictions on who can see it.
This is the reason for many changes in book-to-movie adaptations; certain scenes have to be removed or reworked to fall within certain guidelines; the lower the rating, the better for everyone involved with the movie. It’s part of the reason “Twilight” has no real sex scenes.
Frustratingly, showing a full on graphic murder will only garner a movie an R rating, while showing a woman enjoying sex results in a near-instant NC-17 rating. As stupid and ultimately sexist as that may be, I have to admit that it’s easier to watch a graphic murder next to your parents (or a complete stranger) than an anal sex scene.
So, what does this spell for an erotic novel whose main focus is sex? Personally, I’m hoping that they’ll flesh out some of the subplots in the book, and give them more prominence , which might provide some leeway in terms of how many of the sex scenes they would need to use, as well as help create a more substantial movie.
The novels also received criticism for their lack of supporting characters (the few that appeared where two-dimensional at best). Those could also be fleshed out to create tension, humor, and most importantly, an actual story.
I’d also like to know how they’re going to make that whole “Inner Goddess” thing work without making Anastasia look like a lunatic. But that’s just me. And whether this movie is good, average or absolutely awful, there’s one thing we can say for sure: It will get people talking. Maybe it’ll even get them talking about sex. That’s probably worth the price of admission on its own.
Alice Gray is a contributor for Kinkly.com.