Fifty Shades of Grey, the adaptation of E.L. James' awkwardly steamy erotic novel of the same name, is probably one of the more interesting films releasing this winter. Based on the trailers it looks like it will either be very bad, but in a hilarious way, or surprisingly good.
For those who haven't yet encountered this cultural phenomenon, the Fifty Shades trilogy is a best-selling book series about a shy, virginal student called Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) who is assigned to interview an attractive but distant billionaire called Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). The two of them are quite taken with one another, and it isn't long before Christian is introducing Anastasia to his secret sex dungeon full of whips, handcuffs, and a great many other unspeakable things.
Such unspeakable things really don't come along very often in mainstream films, and it's always interesting to see how the MPAA responds when they do. For example, the 2002 film Secretary was rated R for "strong sexuality, some nudity, depiction of behavioral disorders, and language," and it's not unlikely that the ratings board considered BDSM to be just as much a "behavioral disorder" as the film's depictions of self-harm. Remarkably, the MPAA has actually managed to get even more awkward since then, as Fifty Shades of Grey has now officially been given an R rating for "Strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language."
Admittedly presenting a girlfriend with a legal contract for bedroom activities is quite an unusual thing to do, but the rating does offer a fresh look at the MPAA's rather odd take on morality in movie content. The ratings board has come under scrutiny in the past, particularly in the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, which noted that films depicting gay sex or female pleasure general receive much harsher ratings than films with "usual" sex.
In a recent interview with GQ, Dornan revealed that he did research for the film that included sitting in a dungeon and watching a BDSM scene play out, and said that he doesn't understand why it's such a taboo.
"I'm an extremely liberal person, I don't give a f***. If people are into that they're into that. By the way, if people make such a hoo-hah about the violence against women aspect of it, it's far more common for men to be the submissive. And it's consensual! There's weirder s*** than that. I think plane spotting is far weirder than S&M. That I really don't get. I can understand why people are into S&M, but standing outside Heathrow Terminal 5 waiting for Ryanair to come in?"
James' book series has already drawn criticism from all sorts of directions. Some have derided it for bad writing, others have called it "perversion," and even many members of the BDSM community have criticized it for presenting an inaccurate and irresponsible portrayal of its subject matter. Despite (or perhaps because of) this controversy, over 100 million copies of the books have been sold worldwide, and the film has a good chance of being one of the biggest R rated releases of this year.
Fifty Shades of Grey opens in U.S. theaters on February 13th, 2015.