I don’t know what it feels like to enter a swinging club or a sex on premises venue, or what the standards and protocols are. I imagine, however, it would be a lot like entering a cinema to watch Fifty Shades Freed. One avoids the gaze of others at all costs, speaks only when spoken to, and afterwards seeks spiritual counsel from the supreme being or inspirational meme of their choice.
There are many souls out there – may God have mercy on them – who flocked to see the third installment in the bonkbuster franchise, which opened in cinemas last weekend. Some, like me, knew from the previous films that it would be a mistake to go in thinking ‘this will be a guilty pleasure’. I’ve seen documentaries about venereal disease that are sexier and saucier.
Brains are certain to be fifty shades fried unless preventative measures are taken. The good news is, there is a simple technique anybody can use to turn an otherwise idiotic experience on its head. You can make the sleazy, cheesy Fifty Shades Freed an intellectually stimulating experience.
Here’s what you do. You interpret everything you see in this film – from the saccharine marriage montage at the start, to the kinky shenanigans in the ‘playroom’, to, well, everything – as a daydream. You view the entire film as one extended dream sequence cooked up inside the protagonist’s head, director James Foley neglecting to show the bit at the start or end when Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) snaps back to reality.
When you think of Fifty Shades Freed in this way, everything begins to make sense. The plot holes and gaps of logic, suddenly, are beside the point. The film becomes a stream of consciousness collection of self-seeking fantasies, narrow-minded desires and Kafkaesque visions.
You start to see inspiration in all sorts of places. A scene depicting Anastasia and Christian (Jamie Dornan) sharing a bubble bath, in front of a picturesque panorama of snow-tipped mountains and lush green trees, takes on Lynch-like vibes. The Twin Peaks twang of this moment climaxes when Anastasia, apropos of almost nothing and totally out of character, floats the possibility of murdering a mutual friend.
In what circumstance, other than a dream, would you say that? In what circumstance, other than some kind of Last Tango in Paris-inspired fantasy, would you wait in the corner of a dark kitchen like a creep, then attempt to seduce your lover by smearing ice cream all over them, in the process knocking over (though it’s unclear why this is emphasised) a bowl of apples?
Where else, other than in a dream, would you visit your new mansion in the woods, then take your fancy new wheels for a spin, then discover yourself in a 007-esque car chase, with a bad dude on your trail, for no previously established reason? In what other kind of situation would your partner tell you to “lose them” and, when you lost them, you conclude the situation not by consulting authorities, but by having sex in the front of the vehicle?
Reality, or even its most tenuous representations, is simply not conducive to this sort of sequencing. To understand it we need to think differently.
Fifty Shades Freed includes a cheesy ‘best of’ montage rehashing previous scenes from the trilogy, as if the protagonist were remembering a string of Kodak moments. All the sins of this gut-busting franchise (adapted from E.L. James’ erotic novels) could have been forgiven if, instead of this scene, we watched Anastasia return to reality after her protracted, three film-long daydream concludes. In this new and improved version (you’re welcome, Mr Foley) the following transpires.
We discover Anastasia is single, working a bum job for minimum wage. She has a bad toothache, but can’t afford to go to the dentist. Donald Trump is on TV, talking about how there’s never been a better time to start living the American dream. When Anastasia leaves her apartment, for the first time in days, she walks down the street and a passing car –driven by Christian, en route to closing his third billion dollar deal that morning – drenches her with filthy puddle water. He doesn’t stop.
Roll credits. Fifty Shades Freed becomes a searing critique on the American condition, from low to high art in a heartbeat. The film wins a trove of Academy Awards and is hailed as a modern, experimental masterpiece.