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The 50 Shades film trailer shows us Grey's decor is almost as bad as his BDSM rope-work

Not only does the film look like a bunch of sexist tropes strung out in a row, but if Christian Grey's knots are anything to go by he's rubbish at kink as well.

If the trailer for 50 Shades of Grey is anything to go by, the film looks to be awful. From the offset, it’s packed with sexist film tropes and lazy stereotyping.

Dowdy brunette female protagonist? Check. Stylish, slim, blonde female secretary? Check. Smartly dressed man, his face hidden because it’s important that we immediately understand, as viewers, that looking at the women on screen is going to be far more important than looking at the men? Check.

The opening images we see of Christian Grey, the leading man, are as hilarious as they are unoriginal: with faceless cutaways, we are offered up his environment as clues as to what sort of man he might be. Big man, big office, big… desk. Voiceover saying he’s “intimidating”. Ooh, scary. We see a close up of his finger tapping on his desk. Such a powerful, impatient, dominant man, can’t possibly keep him waiting. Or maybe he just needs to pee?

Anastasia Steele, however, takes up little space, and meekly says “there’s really not much to know about me - look at me”. She’s not being self-deprecating, just self-critical - because all submissive women are like that, obviously. “I am,” he replies, staring at her - because clearly she can only be interesting if a man says so. And that surely is all a woman wants, right? To be seen as something attractive to a man.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We barely have time to explore the politics of on-screen gender representation because we immediately get thrown into a montage of exciting activity. Grey is in a photo shoot; wears expensive suits; gets driven around by a chauffeur; jumps in a helicopter; strides around a penthouse suites; plays a grand piano; pilots a two seater airplane. So much man. Wow. But there’s nothing transgressive in having wealth displayed as aspirational, and particularly in having a rich male character seducing a less-well off female one. It’s the premise of many a rom-com and of the book itself, but the trailer goes one step further: Grey’s opulence is seen as desirable, as wank-fodder for the viewer. It’s as if capitalism itself had ejaculated all over the screen.

And we haven’t even got to the fleeting sexy bits yet.

Set to a breathy remixed version of "Crazy In Love" (where Beyoncé sounds like a cat hacking up a particularly large fur ball) we see in the barely-kinky part of the trailer a series of brief shots, cut together in the hope of appearing tantalising - but watching it frame by frame (I did it so you don’t have to), they are painting by numbers. “My tastes are very singular”, Grey says, taking out a silk blindfold, because obviously that’s unique and unusual and nobody ever does that in bed. A moment later, it’s clear Ana can see out the bottom of the blindfold: not so much a BDSM fail, as incompatible with the character of Grey.

In addition, the rope work we momentarily glimpse is dreadful. You’d think the producers would hire a consultant to at least make it appear convincing; if a character is supposed to be a Big Bad Dominant, then at least make that look persuasive. The trailer really doesn’t bode well for the sexual content.

But, you see, it’s not about accuracy, it’s about fantasy. “I don’t do romance”, Grey says, as he slides his hand up under Ana’s skirt under the table. Apparently, sex and romance are incompatible, and only in films, where men are supposed to be rich and mean and bad boys who don’t want relationships, can women’s fantasies get truly satisfied. There’s nothing progressive about that. It’s not empowering. It’s not even authentic - those who enjoy BDSM have little hope that the film will represent kink in an accurate way.

Worse, though, this trailer offers an entirely unoriginal promise, one that just reinforces the status quo: women - find a rich man and you will have your fantasies fulfilled and discover true happiness. I have little doubt that this film will be successful at the box office, but I fear the impact it will have on how young women see their sexuality: if sexual contentment and wealth are always conflated, then we’re dooming a generation of women to disappointment - and of not having their sexual needs met.

Zoe Margolis is a journalist and writer, famed for writing the Girl With A One-Track Mind blog. You can find more information about her work, including on sexual health, at her website. She's on Twitter as @girlonetrack.

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Women on the edge: new films Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women

With their claustrophobic close-ups and desolate wide shots, both films are stunning portraits of life on the brink.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Christine Chubbuck may not have had much in common in real life – the former briefly the US first lady, the latter a put-upon television news reporter in the early 1970s in Sarasota, Florida – but two new films named after them are cut resolutely from the same cloth. Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women in which the claustrophobic close-up and the desolate wide shot are the predominant forms of address.

Both films hinge on fatal gunshots to the head and both seek to express cinematically a state of mind that is internal: grief and loss in Jackie, which is set mainly in the hours and days after the assassination of President John F Kennedy; depression and paranoia in Christine. In this area, they rely heavily not only on hypnotically controlled performances from their lead actors but on music that describes the psychological contours of distress.

Even before we see anything in Jackie, we hear plunging chords like a string section falling down a lift shaft. This is the unmistakable work of the abrasive art rocker Mica Levi. Her score in Jackie closes in on the ears just as the tight compositions by the cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine exclude the majority of the outside world. The Chilean director Pablo Larraín knows a thing or two about sustaining intensity, as viewers of his earlier work, including his Pinochet-era trilogy (Tony Manero, Post Mortem and No), will attest. Though this is his first English-language film, there is no hint of any softening. The picture will frustrate anyone hoping for a panoramic historical drama, with Larraín and the screenwriter Noah Oppenheim irising intently in on Jackie, played with brittle calm by Natalie Portman, and finding the nation’s woes reflected in her face.

Bit-players come and go as the film jumbles up the past and present, the personal and political. A journalist (Billy Crudup), nameless but based on Theodore White, arrives to interview the widow. Her social secretary, Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), urges her on with cheerleading smiles during the shooting of a stiff promotional film intended to present her warmly to the public. Her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) hovers anxiously nearby as she negotiates the chasm between private grief and public composure. For all the bustle around her, the film insists on Jackie’s aloneness and Portman gives a performance in which there is as much tantalisingly concealed as fearlessly exposed.

A different sort of unravelling occurs in Christine. Antonio Campos’s film begins by showing Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) seated next to a large box marked “fragile” as she interviews on camera an empty chair in which she imagines Richard Nixon to be sitting. She asks of the invisible president: “Is it paranoia if everyone is indeed coming after you?” It’s a good question and one that she doesn’t have the self-awareness to ask herself. Pressured by her editor to chase juicy stories, she goes to sleep each night with a police scanner blaring in her ears. She pleads with a local cop for stories about the darker side of Sarasota, scarcely comprehending that the real darkness lies primarily within her.

For all the shots of TV monitors displaying multiple images of Christine in this beige 1970s hell, the film doesn’t blame the sensationalist nature of the media for her fractured state. Nor does it attribute her downfall entirely to the era’s sexism. Yet both of those things exacerbated problems that Chubbuck already had. She is rigid and off-putting, all severe straight lines, from her haircut and eyebrows to the crossed arms and tight, unsmiling lips that make it difficult for anyone to get close to her. That the film does break through is down to Hall, who illuminates the pain that Christine can’t express, and to the score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. It’s perky enough on the surface but there are cellos sawing away sadly underneath. If you listen hard enough, they’re crying: “Help.” 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era