Roses are red and violets are blue, but this Valentine’s Day is going to be seeing a whole lot of Grey.
Christian Grey, that is.
After months of anticipation and controversy, the film adaptation of E. L. James’ wildly popular erotic novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” comes to the big screen this weekend and is expected to spank the box office, with special premiere showings beginning 8 p.m. today at Carmike Market Square 10 in DeKalb.
But not everyone is hot and bothered by the steamy tale of virginal college student Anastasia Steele (played by Dakota Johnson in the adaptation) and 27-year-old Seattle billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who has a fetish for bondage, whips, chains, blindfolds and handcuffs.
Some are just bothered, particularly with the portrayal of the bondage and discipline, dominant and submissive and sadomasochism (BDSM) lifestyle.
“ ‘Fifty Shades’ is terrible and I struggle to find any redeeming qualities about it, other than perhaps it increases visibility of a lifestyle that is considered deviant and dangerous – which it can be, but it doesn’t always have to be,” said Kathryn Klement, a grad student and member of the Science of BDSM Research Team at Northern Illinois University. “If you engage in safety and rules and everyone is OK with what’s going on, then that’s OK. ‘Fifty Shades’ is not that.”
Established about a decade ago, NIU’s Science of BDSM Research Team has traveled the country presenting at conferences, such as the Southwest Leather Conference in Phoenix, as well as conducting studies and research into the sociology and psychology of BDSM and other sexual minorities.
The team includes about 20 members, eight of whom are core researchers. In April, the team will travel to Chicago for the Midwestern Psychological Association Conference, and host presentations on extreme rituals and altered states of consciousness, and dominant/submissive relationships.
“We’ve really become active in the last couple of years, where we’ve made an important number of connections with organizations in BDSM and leather communities and started doing data collections,” said Brad Sagarin, NIU psychology professor and BDSM Research Team member.
As one of the rare men who admits to having willingly read “Fifty Shades of Grey,” Sagarin, for the most part, praised the book and its dominance over pop culture over the past few years.
“To the extent that ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is awakening in people awareness of aspects of sexuality that they resonate with or haven’t currently explored, and add more passion in their lives ... I think that’s good,” he said. “Would I prefer it be done through a different vehicle? Absolutely.”
Critics have taken their shots at the “Fifty Shades” book trilogy, hitting everything from its unpolished writing – it began as “Twilight” fanfiction – to its content. Domestic violence organizations across the country have threatened to protest at theaters showing the film, although no one has announced any intention to do so in DeKalb.
Sarah Slavenas, public educator at Safe Passage, a DeKalb-based domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and counseling agency, has read some of the book. She said the content too closely resembles issues that come through Safe Passage.
“Some of the unhealthy dynamics depicted in the book we see from clients all the time,” Slavenas said. “Maybe it’s a little less direct in the book, but [Grey] has the economical power and is well-regarded in the community,” Slavenas said, adding she did not plan to see the movie.
The Sycamore State Street Theater – a small family-owned cinema that traditionally shows family fare such as “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” – will be showing “Fifty Shades of Grey” for at least two weeks beginning Friday because of popular demand.
“I read the books, and was on the fence about [showing] it,” theater co-owner Daryl Hopper said. “I wanted to make sure our Sycamore audience would want to see it. When I started asking around, none of the high school kids want to see it; it was all adult women.”
The Sycamore Theater will only show an R-rated film if it would be a draw for mostly adults and not teens – that’s why they recently showed “American Sniper,” but never show R-rated splatterfests like “Halloween,” Hopper said.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” fit that bill.
The theater didn’t officially book the film until last week, so there wasn’t enough time for advance ticket sales.
Carmike Market Square in DeKalb declined to comment, but will be showing the movie.
BDSM Research team member and NIU grad student Ellen Lee, who is studying into the negative stereotypes of BDSM, hasn’t read the book because of its poor reception.
“There are other books that I like better,” she said. “It wasn’t anything I wanted to spend time reading.”
Lee instead recommends “The Marketplace” series by Laura Antoniou for better erotica focused on BDSM.
Lee, Sagarin and Klement all agreed that the 2002 film “Secretary” starring James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal – while no masterpiece – is a better representation of BDSM.
Klement said some parts of “Fifty Shades” don’t present consensual BDSM – they present coercion, sexual assault and rape.
“All the negative emotions that [Anastasia] feels, that’s not indicative of somebody who is willfully, intentionally and consensual engaging in kink,” she said.
While Hopper said although the books weren’t really for her, she’s curious about its transition to the big screen.
“I have no idea how they’re going to do the movie without making it a porno,” Hopper said. “But, it’s rated R, not NC-17. The best movies and books have a lot that is left up to the imagination.”