I don’t begrudge the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise its partnership with Audi. Truly I don’t. I enjoy watching conventionally attractive actors drive sleek, expensive, luxury cars as much as the next person, whether they’re racing through the countryside or getting it on in the R8’s compact but surprisingly roomy interior. That kind of product placement is a natural fit for the Fifty Shades franchise, since E.L. James’ novels are already packed with mentions of the German luxury automobiles to begin with. Even the trailer for Fifty Shades Freed made no attempt to disguise what it really is, a two-hour car commercial with intermittent boning, so you can’t accuse the messaging of being anything even close to subliminal.
No, I definitely don’t mind that Christian Grey’s garage is full of more Audis than a single person could possibly find use for or that he gives Ana an A3 in the first movie, just because he can. That’s all fine. But what in the name of Christian’s sex jeans do the filmmakers—or E.L. James, for that matter—have against the humble Dodge Durango?
The Dodge Durango is the vehicle of choice for Fifty Shades Freed’s villain. How do I know this? Because not only do we see this Dodge at various points in the film, other characters also helpfully remind us, every time it’s onscreen, that the car we are looking at is a Dodge Durango. This begins when Ana and Christian realize they’re being tailed on the way back from their newly purchased home. The car in pursuit is a blue Dodge with fake plates, we’re informed, and while we don’t know exactly why they’re following our horny heroes, it’s surely for some depraved, unknown purpose. Who is the driver? What are their intentions? We can’t even tell if there’s a man or a woman behind the wheel, and Christian and Ana have accumulated so many enemies at this point that they can’t figure out which of them wishes them harm. The only thing we do know: They drive a Dodge Durango. Nefarious!
Even once we put a face to this villain—it’s Ana’s ex-boss and Christian’s old foster care buddy, Jack Hyde—the Dodge still plays a critical role in the film. “There’s a blue Dodge parked in the alley with tinted windows,” Hyde tells Ana menacingly over the phone, ordering her to get inside. No! Not the Dodge! Don’t you know Ana’s contract stipulates that she can only ride in Audis?! As the final showdown takes place and bullets fly, the Durango is still there, dutifully waiting in the background.
Why is there so much emphasis placed on this vehicle’s make and model? Whereas Audi gets a shoutout in Fifty Shades Freed’s credits for providing their cars in the film, a spokesperson for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which owns Dodge, tells me that the company was not involved in Fifty Shades Freed’s production, which means that the filmmakers just decided that it was essential that the villains drive a Dodge, like in James’ book. Why was that detail so important?
Maybe the answer is that the Dodge is meant to be symbolic. After all, the Audi R8 is Christian Grey’s car of choice, which is fitting, given his immense wealth, sleek frame, and aloof “personality,” a word I use here very loosely. (Also, it’s gray, and that’s his name!) Meanwhile, we come to understand that Hyde is kind of an anti-Christian Grey: Both men grew up in the Detroit foster care system, but Christian had the good luck to be adopted by a wealthy family while Hyde suffered the unfortunate fate of aging out of the system and … eventually getting a scholarship to Princeton and a respectable job at a publishing company? I guess the point is that he struggled to get where he was, and he has a real chip on his shoulder about it.
So what does it say about Hyde that he drives a Dodge Durango? Well, compared to an R8, which costs upward of $164,000, it’s downright scrappy. It’s also an SUV, which means it’s durable, and Hyde certainly thinks of himself as a survivor. Mostly, though, it just kind of seems like James and the filmmakers are car snobs. How else can you account for a movie where the heroes drive luxury vehicles while the bad guy is stuck driving around like a particularly edgy soccer mom?
That kind of snobbery would certainly explain this sick burn directed at another antagonist, earlier in the film: “You can go and climb into your shit-colored car and drive back to Seattle.” Damn, Ana. Not everyone has a fleet of Audis at their disposal.