Title: Fifty Shades Darker
Director: James Foley
Studio: Universal Pictures
Rated: R (For strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language)
There is a saying my mother used to have (and I’m sure she heard it from her mother) where she said “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” The moral of the phrase is that you can’t be faulted for being taken for a ride the first time around, but that if you decide to willingly put yourself in the same situation a second time, knowing what came before, then you are more at fault for what happens then the offending party. Because you are officially not learning from past mistakes and giving the offending party free reign to do to you whatever it is they did before. You may think I’m referring to my choosing to see “Fifty Shades Darker” after having witnessed the horror of “Fifty Shades of Grey” two years ago. You…would probably be right on that one (to a certain extent). I’m not blaming anyone but myself for seeing the sequel to one of the worst movies of 2015. The reason I’m bringing this saying up is because it applies to the characters in “Fifty Shades Darker.”
Not just to the actors who reprise their roles (who I’m sure were contractually obligated to do so), but the actual characters themselves. For those who did not see the previous film, it ended with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) being whipped for fun by boyfriend Christian Grey (Jamie Doran), and being so offended by what he did to her – what pleasure he got out of abusing her – that she stormed out of his life and dumped his butt. By the end of my review I said “Christian Grey will have some choices to make next time around.” Or so I thought. See, as much as I hated the previous film, there was a sense that maybe, with the events playing out the way they did, we’d come into this sequel with Christian having to change his ways. Maybe he’d have to decide whether he wants to continue living the way he always has or make some sacrifices for potential greater happiness.
For that matter, if Christian was unwilling to change, then this movie could have also been about Anastasia struggling with her heart’s desire to be with a man her heart obviously wants, but that her brain is trying to tell her is no good. Maybe she could have struggled with being with the guy who claims to love her, while discovering that real nice guy is right next to her taking pictures of strangers on the street. If the movie had been about any of these things then “Fifty Shades Darker” might have actually turned this franchise around into not only being about something in general, but it could have potentially become something very positive. Sadly, not only does the movie do none of these things, but it goes down the most offensive path it could have possibly gone: Anastasia simply goes back into Christian’s arms, knowing that he has learned nothing and, by extension, she herself is making the same mistake. In the previous film, Christian was clearly the bad guy for having manipulated a poor girl for his own sexual pleasure. Now, she is a willing participant.
Heck, their first dinner in this movie has Christian saying he wants to “renegotiate the terms of the contract.” No longer can we feel sorry for her because she should know better. She’s been down this road before. It didn’t work then, and his claims that he is different contain nothing but empty words. Honestly, in real life most people don’t change unless they either find or lose religion, and in this case Christian has done neither. So, we sit there, watching sex scene after sex scene between these two people, in a relationship that is manipulative and dangerous. One that is destined to go around in circles and end in heartbreak. At one point Anastasia seems to realize this herself when she says “this isn’t a relationship; this is control.” You’d think her making this discovery ten minutes into the film would save us the hassle of the next hour and a half, but it doesn’t. She still goes along with it. Maybe, to a certain extent, she likes being controlled and abused? Never mind.
I so wish the film would have explored that in more depth, but I know that it has no interest in doing so. For the film makers, this is a fantasy. Women will flock to the movie and find this romantic for some reason. But I can tell you it’s not romantic. Relationships like this are real. They do happen. When they happen, the person who is being manipulated (which is usually the woman) gets hurt, and they get hurt badly. Some never really recover despite doing the best they can to move on. Worse, most of these women go back to these men, because there is a real psychological power struggle at work. This is not some romantic fantasy: this is real life. And to think that “Fifty Shades Darker” exploits such a disgusting situation to try and titillate the audience is both sad and pathetic. Having known people who got trapped in relationships like this, I could only watch with shaking hands and anger.
And yet…it will be a hit. Despite the push by progressive feminists to be offended at how women are treated in the media, to be portrayed better by a system mostly run by males, and to be treated with a little respect, none of that will matter. It’s not men who made the first movie a hit and it is not men who will make this one a hit. Women will willingly pay money to see “Fifty Shades Darker” thinking it’s romantic, when the reality of the situation is anything but. When the movie was over I cried, thinking about some of my friends who could have potentially found themselves in such a destructive relationship, and praying that if they ever found themselves in one, that hopefully they would have the sense to get out. As for the movie, it is disgusting on a moral level and tardy on an artistic one. For me “Fifty Shades Darker” is the second time I’ve been suckered into this franchise, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to go through this a third time.
P.S. As if the experience of watching the movie wasn’t heartbreaking enough, I was dismayed to discover that it had been directed by James Foley, who previously directed movies like “Glengarry Glen Ross.” If nothing else proves that Hollywood doesn’t know how to manage their own talent, then I don’t know what will.
Parents, there so much sexual content and nudity, that I'm amazed they avoided an NC-17. Also there is some brief violence and strong language at certain moments. Recommended for ages 18 and up.