WARNING! This article is full of possible triggers: sexual harassment, rape, consent, PTSD, spousal abuse, acts of sexual violence. This article also contains all the SPOILERS.
When I first wrote the 50 Shades Darker analysis, I found 95 red flags in 2 hours and 4 minutes of film time. In 50 Shades Freed, I found 45 in 1 hour and 40 minutes. Half the flags with 24 minutes less film. Why so many less? In Freed, there were a LOT more sex scenes. A LOT OF FILM TIME. And they were mostly (bar one which we will get to) vanilla – down to the flavour of ice cream. Where the first instalment, not as yet reviewed for analysis, focused on self-esteem and very poor understanding of BDSM, the second was flawed minute to minute on a large number of areas from abuse and PTSD issues to complete and utter lack of understanding and misrepresentation of complex psychological issues. This last (please god!) offering changed from being an ignorant dishing up of bad fanfic to a love letter for abusive relationships. Where in the last article I had too many themes and had to condense them for brevity, here we only have three: characters being dicks, trust issues, and spousal abuse.
I have to keep reminding myself that the whole series is bad smut fanfic. This is E.L. James’ late-night sexual fantasies shared online with other sparkly Twilight fans. The scripts have been edited and rewritten many times before they hit print publication, but obviously, the editing was done with no fact checking whatsoever. The characters have never been and continue to be never more than 2 dimensional and severely contrived. It’s a Cinderella story with kinky-ish sex.
As you can see here: 50 Shades Freed – Discourse Analysis I have coded the flags using the same system as in “Darker“. I have added a few new icons to the key to cover the three new themes. Anyone wishing to use this article for their own adventures in discourse analysis, feel free!
Characters being dicks
Throughout the film, while watching Christian, you sit back, stare at the screen and think, “What a dick!” First, Christian tells Anna that she can’t go topless on a topless beach. He doesn’t tell her it’s because there are paparazzi and she wouldn’t want to be on the cover of a tabloid which would be to her benefit to know. Nope, he initially just acts like a controlling jealous dick. He won’t let her drive his car until she proves herself by being aggressive to another woman. Dick.
They both rush into marriage without ever discussing the big issues like her work and more importantly whether they want the same things in life like kids. Stupid.
When Anna returns from honeymoon she finds she has been promoted to a much higher position in the company without having the evidence or proof, at that point in the movie, that she earned it making her colleagues assume (probably correctly) nepotism. Massive dick. And what even more dickish is that Anna KNOWS that she could never have “earned” that promotion without having been married to the owner of the company and she takes it! Vagina!
When Christian finds out Anna is pregnant, puts the blame and the sole responsibility for maintaining her birth control on her. Then he leaves her to get shitfaced and spend the evening with his ex who is also the woman who sexually abused him as a minor. Bag of dicks.
The trust issues start from the very first moments of the movie with the exchange of vows.
Christian vows to “love, TO TRUST, and to respect you. To comfort you in times of need and KEEP YOU SAFE. All that I have is now yours. I give you my hand and my heart for as long as we both shall live.” So, Christian gives Anna in a fairytale moment, everything. He puts his physical possessions into her hands and says he trusts and respects her in all things. But we find throughout the story that Christian does not trust Anna with facts (he doesn’t want her topless not because he is jealous but paparazzi), her choices (the security guard tattles on her when she did not go straight home but went out for a drink instead), her ability to get her own promotion (Yeah, I know he told her she got it on her own but why did she get it BEFORE the preorder sales numbers came out?), or his worldly goods (Christian contiunally tells her “its all yours” but when she goes to the bank for the ransom money she still needs his ok before it is released.) Throughout the movie there are numerous incidences where he makes her prove she is worthy of his trust before respecting her; not allowing her to drive his car, he keeps a gun in their home, keeps information about Jack and her safety from her, wont allow her to see her friends unsupervised and out of his control (the Colorado trip), and that he still won’t allow her into his no-go personal areas (shower scene).
Anna’s vows are more traditional and subservient. She promises to love Christian “unconditionally.” Just take a moment there. She just promised to be his dog. Yes, children love their parents unconditionally – without restrictions or limits, and that’s dangerous and a huge responsibility to the parent to NOT abuse that depth of loyalty. A dog will let their master beat them nearly to death and still love and protect them. A child will do the same for the ones they love. She also just promised to abandon her ability to reason – unconditional means total faith in their truth, total belief in their version of everything. Anna also vows to “cherish” Christian. Synonyms are adore, dote on, be devoted to, revere. Yep. She promised to be his dog. Throughout the story, she behaves just like a bitch. She sees off other rivals and accepts everything he does and says. When Anna “defies” her Master’s wishes, she is punished and she (except for one instance) accepts without complaint, including changing her email to her married name. Anna invests her complete trust in Christian as a partner yet he continually withholds and betrays her trust – and she takes it.
The worst betrayal of trust comes when Christian uses sex to express his anger and punish Anna. We will discuss this later, I promise as it is spousal abuse, but mentioning it here as the huge misuse and abuse of trust issue that it is.
Sandra Horley, Chief Executive of Refuge and author of Power and Control: Why Charming Men Can Make Dangerous Lovers describes “Charm Man Syndrome” as someone who exhibits the syndrome is always charming and uses this charm to gain control over a partner using techniques of criticism to undermine their self-esteem or jealousy. You’ve heard of “Negging“?
‘What Charm Syndrome Man needs most is to feel completely in control. So his outbursts of emotional or physical abuse occur when his control feels threatened.[…]And, because Charm Syndrome Man sometimes reverts to his old charming self, the one she fell in love with, many women even feel that the abuse is their fault, that there must be something they’ve done to make it happen. […] it is control over his partner that he really wants.’ – Sandra Horley
Both Christian and Jack display allllllll the traits of Charm Man Syndrome. This speaks more to E.L. James’ interpretation of human psyche and her sexual fantasies than to reality. It is incredibly disturbing that she wrote her hero/main romantic interest as an abusive male trope. Worse yet, as she has shown through all her works, James assigns BDSM as an attribute to abusive males.
Christian after promising to trust and respect Anna, does neither. He withhold information, makes her jump through hoops for his approval. Christian’s repeats behaviour loops where he lavishes attention and gifts upon Anna and then when she expresses freedom of will, goes into flights of anger/rage and inflicts punishments. He isolates her from her friends and surrounds her with security whom ultimately she cannot trust as they report on her every move without consulting with her wishes first. Christian always apologises afterwards and bestows yet more gifts but ultimately his behaviour does not change. These are classic control issues of an abusive partner.
There are two huge examples of abusive behaviour which entail unsurmountable breaches of trust which would break any normal relationship. The first complete massive breach of trust was at 42 minutes into the movie where Christian violates a sacred space. In BDSM you NEVER come from a place of anger. When anger is involved in punishment it is the legal and moral definition of abuse. Does not matter that Christian was denying Anna an orgasm. It was without her consent causing her to use her safe word. When people practice BDSM it is only through consent. The space they create could be a bedroom, a dungeon like the Red Room, or their back garden it becomes sacred space where TRUST cannot be broken without severe consequences. If a person breaks that trust by abusing someone in anger it is considered physical abuse. Harming someone in anger is GBH. If safe words, the clearest way of saying no, are ignored its rape. Make no mistake: what Christian did would have ended most BDSM relationships stone dead. What Christian did was a physical assault.
The second instance is where Anna goes to the bank to withdraw 5 million (and this is from a multibillionaire) for the ransom money. She hands over the check to find the manager has instructions to clear the action with Christian first. Anna does in fact NOT have her husband’s trust. Hell, if I were in her position, I would have tried it much earlier just to test his word. The one time that she needs to trust his word, all his promises and apologies, he fails her.
Anna’s entire character is that of the victim. She wholeheartedly buys into the lie that Christian trusts and respects her despite having had ample proof of the opposite. Her response to his breach of trust and abuse in the Red Room is, “That was not love. That was revenge.” And like most women in the snare of Charm Man, she accepts his explanation that “I denied you so that you would feel what it was like when you break your promises.” Charm Men manipulate situations to make their victim the cause of their actions; your actions scared me, I only have your safety at heart, I did this because I was afraid you would leave me. This puts Anna on the back foot and solicits guilt and a need to comfort the Christian. “I’m right here for you!” This is where her pledge of unconditional love makes her a victim. It leaves her no way out, no voice of her own and open to Christians constant demand of love, loyalty and absolute obedience.
In the final minutes of the movie, Christian is concerned that he and Jack are exactly alike. Anna states, “You are nothing like him.” Let’s take a look at the evidence. Jack uses Charm Man Syndrome to seduce women and then blackmail them to get them to do what he wants by making sex tapes. Christian uses Charm Man Syndrome to seduce women and get them to do what he wants by employing confidentiality and detailed sexual/behavioural contracts. One has money, one does not. Both violate trust willy-nilly. And to put the nail in the head of Anna’s and E.L. James illusions, how is either man not the spiting psychological image of Trump. Seriously, for every action by men in this awful flick, substitute the men for Trump. Substitute Anna with Stormy Daniels.
Finally or not finally
E.L. James has done a huge disservice to humanity with this trash. She has misrepresented BDSM as a tool of abusers and abusers and their victims as romantic heroes. Yes, this is a middle-aged woman’s very ill-informed sexual fantasies. Yes, she has made a lot of money with it. But like the NRA, if you don’t inform yourselves on the issues from credible sources you can get yourself into some pretty bad situations where everybody gets hurt.
Don’t take this shit as anything other than cheap soft porn. That’s my professional opinion.
Oh, and it’s not over yet… E.L. James is rewriting the series from Christian’s perspective. It has been described in one word: Predatory.