Fifty Shades of Grey became a hot topic of pop culture conversation as soon as the first book hit shelves in 2011. The series has seen sharp criticism on everything from the writing to its depictions of women and sex. This week, the film trilogy comes to a close on a thoroughly average note with the release of Fifty Shades Freed.

Fifty Shades Freed follows Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) as they finally bring their relationship to the next level… marriage. However, the lingering presence of Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) proves to be a problem when he attacks Anastasia. Will they be able to weather the villain’s oncoming storm? James Foley directed the film from a script penned by Niall Leonard.

Criticism plagued this film series (and even the source novels) since its release. The stories have and continue to bring a highly problematic take on subjects of sexuality and gender. Fifty Shades Freed is no different. There are still major issues with this narrative.

Perhaps most frustrating is the film’s obvious inclusion of the male gaze. Women are the main marketing demographic for a film like Fifty Shades Freed. However, you wouldn’t know it looking at the movie’s visual construction. We see a definite fetishization of Anastasia, which is not duplicated with Christian. The filmmaker puts Ana’s nudity on full display repeatedly. The camera lingers over her body, gazing at every inch and curve of her figure with the eye of a lover. Notably, the camera doesn’t treat Christian’s body in the same manner. The camera never assumes Ana’s perspective in looking at his body. The camera does not gaze at him. Rather, his nudity (which is never as full as Anastasia’s) occurs merely as a result of their intimacy. As such, the camera maintains a male perspective on the action, sexualizing and fetishizing Anastasia while at the same time claiming to be telling her story. 

Delving into the film from another perspective, Fifty Shades Freed presents a problematic vision of sex. The problem lies in the construction of the scenes. The Fifty Shades franchise is known for its (weakly crafted) take on the BDSM community. In this movie, while there are a number of sex scenes, only three are at all BDSM in nature. Where this becomes troubling is in the multiple instances where Christian’s “playroom” is involved, he uses their sex as a weapon. More specifically, Christian twice uses his playroom to punish Anastasia for behavior he doesn’t approve of, and to teach her a lesson. The scenes are disturbing, showing Grey in a particularly serial killer-esque light as he subjects his wife to this treatment not for their mutual pleasure, but to literally punish her for letting him down. 

Breaking down Fifty Shades Freed with an eye towards film form, the movie is fairly standard. They haven’t quite solved the well-discussed issues with the performances. There are still problems with the chemistry between Dornan and Johnson, and neither seem particularly invested in the material. This is a continual critique, present for each of the entries into the series. No changes here. 

However, fantasy and escapism also define this series. It should come as no secret that as a character Anastasia’s main purpose is audience identification. She is meant as an easy figure for women to project themselves on, and to imagine what would happen when they land a handsome, millionaire significant other with some pleasantly kinky tendencies. This is where Fifty Shades Freed is a success. It is glitzy, glamorous and gorgeous. In this week before Valentines Day, it’s particularly easy to loose yourself in this story. As such, the movie plays like fun girls night fair. There was laughter, applause and playful reactions coming out of the screening audience as the story played out on screen.

Fifty Shades Freed is more of the same from the notoriously problematic trilogy. Diving into the many issues with the series would fuel analysis for months… and if you haven’t liked the earlier films, you aren’t going to like this one. However, this movie serves one primary purpose: audience identification. Looking for a fun girls night? Check this one out. This movie might even be an alright date night; however, if you haven’t liked the series yet, don’t bother with this one.

Fifty Shades Freed is in theaters around the country this weekend.

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Kimberly Pierce

A film nerd from my earliest years watching Abbott and Costello, that eventually translated to a Master’s Degree in Film History. I spend my time working on my fiction projects in all their forms, as well as covering film and television.
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