The weirdest thing about watching Fifty Shades of Grey in a movie theater is experiencing so many conflicting emotional states with a roomful of strangers. One moment Christian is delivering the line “If you were mine, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week” and the crowd is hooting with laughter; the next moment he is trickling ice cube runoff over Anastasia’s chest and even the popcorn-chompers aren’t making any noise at all. As the relationship warning signs begin to accumulate with all the subtlety of a flogging, it is still hard not to be distracted by the high quality leather.
So perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie is the way it pushes different boundaries for different people. To borrow Anastasia’s words, “Christian, you are so confusing.” After all, this is a man who buys his woman a surprise new BMW but not before selling her own car without asking. Some female viewers find it all irresistible; some are grossed out from the moment he opens his symmetrical mouth. In any event, it was clear that no one was quite sure what to make of the central relationship. So we decided to convene some of the women of Slate to discuss this pressing question: If you’re Anastasia Steele, being romanced by Christian Grey, when are you out?
When he buys rope and cable ties at the hardware store:
Here I am, Ana Steele, just minding my own business working at a quaint local hardware store. I have a coworker who looks like a Norse God and is clearly sweet on me. This creepy billionaire I met yesterday who uses words like “incentivize” while trying to kick game pops up behind me like Jason and/or Freddy Krueger, asking for cable ties. “You’re the complete serial killer,” I tell him, picturing my lifeless body, Laura Palmer-style, on the shores of some scenic Pacific Northwest beach. By stalking me at work, he shows a disturbing lack of boundaries. That is when I’m out.
Granted, I say this through my current vantage point as a 32-year-old married mother. This is not my first rodeo. If you had asked me when I was 21 and maybe had not been to as many rodeos, I would probably say I would be out during the contract negotiations. Nothing is less sexy than haggling.
—Jess Grose, Slate contributor
When he flees the café where we are having coffee and says “You should steer clear of me. I’m not the man for you”:
If I were to meet Christian Grey at the age I am now, I would say that a smug, handsome billionaire does not intrigue me in the least, sexually or otherwise. But if I put myself in the shoes of Ana—early 20s and suffering from a severe case of senioritis—yeah, I’d be down to convince myself that his smugness is actually hard-earned confidence. That his mysterious “serial killer” tools bought at the hardware store are creepy in a hot way. Until he grabbed my shoulders and told me: “Steer clear of me. I’m not the man for you.”
But even at 21, I like to think I had the sense to recognize that any guy giving me bedroom eyes at every moment while simultaneously telling me to “steer clear” of him is a manipulator of the worst kind.
These are the people who give the objects of their flirtation a seemingly self-aware “warning” while knowing damn well that by doing so, they’ll only pull naïve targets even further in. (Because he’s obviously being self-deprecating, and doesn’t know his own worth. “I can fix him!” she’ll think.) And later, when everything falls apart because this guy does not know how to communicate like your standard adult human being, they can remind their partner that they told them, from the beginning, they were a mess.
—Aisha Harris, staff writer
When he shows up unbidden at the club after I drunk-dial him:
Up until this point, Christian is definitely weird and flinchy, but no more so than your average male narcissist. But when he shows up at the club, he sends up a flurry of Gift of Fear-style red flags, starting with when he asks, in an accusatory tone of voice, “Have you been drinking?” Then Christian announces that he’s coming to get Anastasia, which is insanely inappropriate given that they have met each other no more than three times at this point. If Christian were a close friend of Anastasia, and if Anastasia were truly in trouble (instead of just hanging out with friends and making ill-advised phone calls in line for the bathroom), it might be OK for him to show up. Not the case.
The coup de grace is when Christian arrives and punches Jose, who is being something of a creep himself by macking on Anastasia when she’s super drunk. This escalates way, way too quickly. (And Anastasia seemed to be handling the situation pretty well before Christian showed up.) The cherry on top is that Christian pimps out his brother to distract Ana’s roommate.
Obviously, the worst part of this whole situation is that Christian kidnaps Anastasia and takes her back to his hotel room when she is incapacitated. But even before the abduction happens, Christian has proven that he is a controlling, possessive, violent dude who tries to separate Ana from her friends when she’s at her most vulnerable.
—L.V. Anderson, Slate associate editor
When he buys me a car:
From my answer you can deduce that I am a) willfully missing the point of Fifty Shades of Grey and b) making a disparaging comment on the “vanilla” nature of the allegedly kinky scenes in this film (I am eager to see a real time re-enactment of these so-called kinky scenes, in which Christian, like an especially handsome assembler of Ikea furniture, takes the necessary 30 minutes to truss Ana up—“do you see the Allen wrench, babe?”—only to then caress her with…. a peacock feather) or c) am willing to accept computers as gifts/bribes, but think free automobiles is crossing an only-for-parents line.
But, no, I do really think giving automobiles is creepy. Forget BDSM—having a guy insist on paying your car insurance forever is the ultimate in control freakery.
—Willa Paskin, TV critic
When he braids my hair in the second Red Room scene:
The second Red Room visit, when Christian braids Anastasia’s hair, is the one that did it for me. Before that, I was in. When he sensually buckled her helicopter seatbelt, I thought: looks fun. When he made the first “Laters, Baby” joke, I thought: well-played. But when he led her into his pleasure chamber for round two, something clicked.
It wasn’t the hair-braiding, per se, but the depressing tedium of the scene overall. You might not even remember it, because all the BDSM-ing had begun to blur together. But at this point the chains and ball gags had come to seem about as exciting as household cleaning supplies. As a viewer, I’d say the closest analogue was in American Sniper when Bradley Cooper comes home to impregnate his wife and then departs again and then returns and departs again and the screen announces “Fourth Tour” and you think, “another one?”—that is how I felt by the time this Red Room visit rolled around. I understand that this film was intended to raise all sorts of important questions about consent and boundaries and sublimated desire, but this particular Christian Grey just did not seem dangerous in the least. He seemed less like a warm-blooded human than a department store mannequin with a moving mouth. So the reason I wanted out was the last thing I expected: I was bored.
—Laura Bennett, senior editor
After the scene with the six spanks:
I was in, Christian: past the good (animal magnetism!), the bad (you sold my car!?), and the ridiculous (the peacock feather). Past your oh-so-sadistic demands that I eat regularly and never feel ashamed of my beautiful nakedness. Past your confusing desire to crash my margarita breakfast with my mom. Past the inexpressively mournful grand piano on which your fingers draw forth aching Chopin impromptus. Past your terrible email banter. Past your light swats. Past the fact that cardboard cut-outs of The Backstreet Boys emote in a way more consistent with human passions and affections than you, and I find that weirdly hot, and maybe that is worrisome?
I am in because you’re sexy and unusual and on some level I believe that your dom fetish is about pleasure (both of ours) and not some vicious yearning to see me humiliated. That you are physically kinky rather than an emotional sadist. I am in, therefore, until you gratify your “need” to inflict genuine suffering and abasement on someone who trusts you by unsensuously flogging her with a belt. (No, it doesn’t matter that the blows don’t look like they hurt that much. Your stony expression indicates that what you’re doing has nothing to do with arousal and play and everything to do with being fifty shades of fucked-up.) Six spanks and I’m out.
—Katy Waldman, words correspondent
So let’s say I’m a recent college graduate from WSU-Vancouver and I’ve won the intentions of a handsome billionaire who says he doesn’t “do” relationships yet calls me his girlfriend; says he thinks touching is icky but holds my hand all the time; says he doesn’t go on “dates” but will take me to dinner or ice-skating once a week. I am never out. Or more likely, I’m out about a year or two after the movie ends.
Dude sounds like any number of guys I dated in college and after, except much, much prettier and richer. Of course, Christian is as creepily stalkery as he is handsomely wealthy, and this poses a legitimate dilemma for me-as-Anastasia: Like her, I am out at several points along the way (i.e. when he shows up uninvited on a visit with my mother) but I will probably end up seeing him again after he buys me a ride in a weird plane or whatever.
As for when I’m out of being delighted by the movie, as a viewer, it’s when Christian pulls out that peacock feather and tickles Anastasia’s naked body with it. Neither sexy nor funny, just weird. But if I were the one wearing the blindfold I might not know how dumb it looked.
—Amanda Hess, staff writer