Fifty Shades Darker is without a doubt one of the worst films I have ever seen. But if I struggled to understand how such a film could ever be released and embraced by the audiences two years ago when its predecessor, Fifty Shades of Grey, hit the theatres, this second edition to the series hardly left me in any such disbelief. I left the cinema utterly disgusted and shocked about just how bad a film can be, but surprised that this is what brings people to the cinema, that this is what women are willing to spend their money on? No, not anymore. We are living in a Trump-era after all, and it is hard not to see some parallels between Grey’s disturbing treatment of women and Trump’s own sexual assault accusations and disgusting remarks about him being entitled to grabbing women’s genitalia whenever he feels like it. If we are living in an era where the worst kind of misogyny can get you into the White House, should we still be surprised that this kind of film not only gets released without worldwide protests against it, but even makes hundreds of millions of dollars of profit? I guess not.
Grey’s luxurious penthouse could easily be mistaken for the top floor of Trump’s Tower (minus all the gold, although there is a Red Room to make up for that; or should I say REDRUM? Because let’s be honest, it’s only a matter of time when Grey goes full-on Jack Nicholson in The Shining), and his naive, if not just plain stupid, young girl undoubtedly bears some resemblance to Trump’s damsel in distress as she, although not from a foreign country, continuously acts like she just fell from another planet. Having been reading 19th century novels by Jane Austen and Brontë sisters for most of her adolescent and adult life, she seems to have overlooked the fact that two hundred years and three waves of feminism have passed between now and then, leaving Western civilization thoroughly changed in the process. Women not only got the right to vote and semi-equal opportunities in the professional world, but we also witnessed to a sexual revolution that gave us the right to form and claim our own sexual identity. But this all seems foreign to Anastasia who, at 27, is still a virgin. Which makes her a perfect victim for our modern-day Mr. Rochester who manages to win this clueless and inexperienced girl over with his pockets full of money – as well as with (or maybe despite?) his disturbing and creepy possessiveness that gets alarmingly romanticized in what should be a fictional (#FreeMelania inspired) caution tale about domestic abuse.
At the end of the last film we parted our ways with this troubled couple just as Anastasia, disturbed by discovery of Grey’s appetite for “kinky fuckery” (if anyone wondered whether dialogues get any better this time around, I hope this term alone answers your question: fuck no), dumped his rich stalkery ass and went to live her life on her own terms. But just as she starts working at her new job, Dorian Grey bursts back into her life – and he doesn’t need to do much more but to sweet-talk her over one really expensive dinner before she ends up right back in his arms. This time without the contract. But wait, just an hour and a couple of boring vanilla sex scenes later (seriously, for an erotic movie this film did not even manage to get this part right) he romantically proposes to her just as he wakes from a terrible nightmare (because this is how every woman wants to be proposed: during a nightmare that is quite possible a metaphor for a marriage that is yet to come). She says yes, of course – because how could she not if this is exactly what it takes for her to once and for all waltz into the world of the 1%? The contract is therefore hardly ever mentioned throughout the film – but then again, isn’t a marriage licence (at least for a person such as Grey) exactly the same piece of paper? Won’t this certificate give him the ultimate control and possession of her? Won’t she simply become his property, obliged to do exactly as he pleases? This is, after all, what she is already doing – only to always putting up a bit of a fight before doing as she is told, like this will fool any of us about her supposed strong will and independence. He already has a file on her, has a hold of her bank account, is tracking her phone and even forbids her to go on an important business trip – which she dutifully obliges. So, what’s next? I’d say her getting locked in his Trump Tower (sorry, my mistake, I obviously meant Grey’s penthouse) where sexual assault will become just one of many ways for Grey to unleash his inner demons (but, as Trump would say, no sexual intercourse can be interpreted as rape inside of a marriage, so all is good, right?).
As I have already established in my previous review: this is a love story about capitalism (as well as patriarchy; the two go hand in hand after all), but this movie is quite less ashamed to admit that compared to the last one. A particularly laughable sex scene that follows their reconciliation is therefore not even trying to be erotic, as if the real turn-on for the audience is actually yet to come a few moments later: by Grey telling Anastasia that he makes 45.000$ every fifteen minutes. And because glamorizing the life of the 1% is all this film is actually about, the list of such ridiculous scenes just goes on: Anastasia getting to choose from custom design lingerie and costumes for the ball at the sight of which she looks more aroused than half of the time she and Christian are actually intimate; her learning about his place in Aspen, to which he smugly replies “I have a lot of places” (and off they go, to have sex, because what’s sexier than a guy you’re dating, even though possessing no personality whatsoever but a sadistic need to cause women pain, telling you that he has real estates all over the country?) and her learning how to drive his enormous sailing boat (one of the most ridiculous scenes in this film where I didn’t know if the whole movie crew was just absolutely fascinated by the fact that boats can drive on water or they just really wanted to sell this particular boat to us as the film seemed to have ended there for a second and jumped to a commercial).
There is absolutely nothing that is not to hate here – from awful dialogues and awkward and stiff performances (with the exception of Dakota Johnson who at times looks like she is actually making fun of her own role, which is really the only right way to approach her ridiculously pathetic character), to guest performance of Kim Basigner who probably got paid a nice sum of money to get a drink spilled in her face and then slapped just a moment later in the most fabulous Mexican telenovela fashion. But her presence mostly just reminded us of how much steamier erotic dramas could (and should) be, since her 80’s film Nine 1/2 Weeks, despite its obvious flaws, managed to do the genre justice that this trilogy can only dream of. Because to be honest, despite the misleading Darker in the title, there isn’t one erotic scene that I would not find laugh out funny – including the one in the big finale when Anastasia finally asks if they could make love in the Red Room. S&M, something that is supposed to be the biggest marketing niche of the franchise, is here once again reduced to using a satin blindfold and handcuffs (oh the kinkiness of it!) which eventually leads to sex in – wait for it – good old missionary position. Instead of normalizing the fact that some people indeed practice S&M and that there’s nothing wrong with that (as long as it happens in a safe environment and with consent of everyone involved), this film tries to normalize and romanticize stalking and possessiveness of a man; of him trying to dominate and control the woman’s life completely, in every sphere of her private and professional life, as if thousands of women aren’t endangered every second of the day by men who act just like that. As for the fetishes that should be at the center of this utterly awful story – the only fetish I managed to detect throughout the film was ultimately the one that both Grey and Anastasia share: money.