After a teaser at the end of Darker last year which contained a whole lotta wedding footage I expected we’d at least be getting some wedding drama. I mean, whole plot points of that film revolve around two of Christian’s exes each with different scores to settle. I thought there’d at least be someone standing up at the ceremony with an outlandish objection. Maybe some last minute nerves, maybe we’d just get some nice fucking in a white dress. Apparently not, the ceremony is over before even the opening titles end. The rest of the film is sweeping up the loose ends.
It’s a real grab bag of loose ends too. The abusive editor who was swiftly dealt with in the last instalment returns with a vengeance and conveniently apposite backstory. Ana is still keeping up her job as fiction editor at Seattle Indepenent Publising and is finding it hard to balance the commitments of work and married life. She also finds herself to be pregnant, and despite the fact that both these sane adults agree that they are neither sufficiently prepared to be parents, the baby gotta stay, no question.
Those three plots strum through the whole picture, neither quite fits into the other. They brush up against each other uncomfortably, not content to be parallel, they interrupt each other each muscling to own the picture. In addition to them, there’s time dedicated to the renovation of a new country house, a resolution to the tumultuous love life of Christian’s brother Elliot; distractions that serve no dramatic purpose other than to whisk us to some new and expensive looking location for a short while. There’s so little sense in the way events progress that I struggle to put the film into order in my memory.
Might all be more forgivable if the sex were good. It isn’t really, there’s far less of it than before and even the voyeuristic joy of it all has more or less vanished from the equation. The film knows by this point the fantasy that it selling, and it ain’t the dream of a liberated, kinky sex life to be enjoyed with an attentive and enthusiastic partner. It’s about having a lot of fucking hard cash. The thought of being able to cash a check for five million dollars gets me way more wet than whatever fun sexual escapades they be having.
The franchise is not about people anymore. It’s about a penthouse apartment, a garage filled with expensive automobiles, a full time security detail and private planes ready to take you anywhere you wanna go. There ain’t a single time when this couple, committed to having a child together, sit down and talk about themselves. They don’t bitch about work or laugh about friends. They don’t touch each other. It feels inhuman in a way, these figures unable to interact outside the confines of materiality unless acted upon.
Is that satire? Like Newton’s laws of motion, painting the privileged and the wealthy elite as characters incompatible with life. Who aren’t functional anymore, whose steadfast commitment to the status quo that enriched them leaves them bereft of purpose and meaning. So static, marvelling at the gravitational effect that they can have on the regular people trapped in their orbit.
If it is, it doesn’t feel intentional. They still want us to look up to these people, still want us to envy and admire them. You can’t though, the super-rich aren’t humans, and not even Dakota Johnson’s knowing irony (or whatever guileless charisma void Jamie Dornan is doing) is enough to sufficiently convince us otherwise.
So instead we have an uninteresting stalker who is either a slick villainous mastermind or a complete incompetent based on the needs of the moment. Tension at a publishing house that can be abandoned at lunchtime if you’ve anything better to do, at which the lone business decision our hero makes is to command her staff to increase a font size. And an unexpected foetus that might serve some sorta problem if you didn’t already have a fulltime serving staff. Y’all can understand why this plumbs the depths of narrative dissatisfaction.
Know what else is unsatisfying? We go a whole fucking film and never see a single dick. The sex scenes (not good, but certainly elaborate and shot with a good deal of care) become a farce as the camera sways down to the waistline and bounces back up as if even the slightest hint of bulge might be too much for the more sensitive among us. Either that or Christian be wearing his patented pair of sex jeans which do a fair job in themselves in undercutting any ardour you may be experiencing.
To make up for the three plots, the film has two endings. The first is borderline incomprehensible, addressing a facet of Christian’s past that went unremarked upon the whole joint, trying to reassure us of the humanity it is clear he does not possess. The second would be really good in a good film, a film that was leading to it, a film which explored sex and power in an adult manner.
This film has dishonesty in its bones. It feels like it is lying to you, placating you, trying to make everything feel okay. Propaganda for a world where pleasure can be wielded as power and unremarked upon. Passion can be political, the legislation of our pleasure is an often unremarked upon abrogation of our ability to live in this world. Especially if you ain’t a cithet white dude. This could have been about something, that it isn’t is deliberate.
Fifty Shades Freed is currently screening in UK cinemas.