Here is a thing that feels weird to suddenly think about, and it’s a thing I suddenly thought about this past Friday night, while my wife and I watched Fifty Shades of Grey in a movie theater: I wonder how many guys in here right now have an erection?
It happened during one of the sex scenes (of which there were far fewer than I was anticipating). The main guy, Christian Grey, a 27-year-old billionaire — handsome but not aggressively so — surprise-showed up to see the main girl, Anastasia Steele, a thin, inoffensive, just-out-of-college woman. He was upset that she’d been taking so long to sign a contract that would make her his sex vassal (for real), and so he flew to where she lived, walked into her bedroom, made some square-ish small talk, tied her to her bed, had sex with her, told her to hurry up and sign the contract, and then left.
While it was happening … that’s when I started thinking about the erection per capita. The theater was nearly all the way full, and there was a sign above the entrance that said the maximum occupancy was 300 people, and probably half of the 300 were guys there on dates. So that was 150 potential erections occurring within shouting distance, and at least six within arm’s reach.
What if a fire breaks out, I thought, and everyone in the theater runs out, and all of a sudden it’s an erection stampede? Or what if I reach for my drink, and then when I go to place it back in the cupholder I miss, drop the drink on the ground, it splashes all over the guy next to me, and so now I have to fight a guy who has an erection? How do I handle that? Do I still fight him? Do we wait until it subsides? Do we just ignore it? Can I punch him in it? What are the rules there?
It was the most I’d ever thought about a bunch of other erections, and certainly the most I’d ever thought about them while on a Valentine’s Day date (or any date, really) with my wife. Generally, we end up at an Italian restaurant of varying quality, and if they have those long breads that come with the salads that look like erections then I’ll think of one real quick, but that’s about it.
When I asked my wife if she’d given any thought to whether there was a significant amount of erections around us, she said, “No. I was only thinking about whether you had one.” (I did not.) When I asked her, since I brought it up, if thinking about the possibility made it a more romantic date or a less romantic date, she said, “Less.” So I guess we still don’t agree on what is romantic and what isn’t romantic. When I asked her if she was enjoying the movie, she said, “Kind of, but not really.” At least we still agree on what is or isn’t a good movie.
The movie is not that great, or even that fun. That’s probably why my brain was so busy. For most of the running time, Grey tries to come off brooding and mysterious, but Jamie Dornan is not that good of an actor, so he ends up just looking slightly upset all the time. Steele, played by Dakota Johnson, is much better. She’s mousy, but funny and charming, and semi-complicated: a virgin who accidentally finds her way into a relationship with this sex deviant and is trying to make sense of it.
We never hear how Grey makes his money — we’re only told that he has a lot of it. (He says things like, “Business is about people, and I’m good at people,” so maybe he runs some type of high-stakes investment firm, but maybe he runs a human slavery trafficking enterprise.)
We never hear why he likes to tie up women and spank them and put things besides his penis inside them — we’re only told that he does. (There’s one scene at a conference table in which they study the sex contract and use the phrase “anal fisting”; the conversations in the movie are more lurid and intimidating than any of the actual sex.)
There’s one particularly offbeat moment early on — before any sex stuff has happened — when Steele wakes up in an unfamiliar hotel bed and sees Grey, who she’d not intended on going home with (she drunk-called him from a bar and he showed up to rescue her, but really put her in his debt). She asks him if they slept together. He says no. Then he makes her a piece of toast. Then he hands it to her. Then he takes his shirt off, says, “If you were mine you wouldn’t be able to sit for a week,” then leans in on the bed and bites the toast he’s just given her, then walks away to take a shower. It was like … What the fuck just happened?
There was this movie called Hostel, which came out in 2006. It was about some folks getting pulled into this human killing ring, where American tourists got sold to rich people who wanted to torture and kill victims. It was kind of fun to watch, but it should have been way better than it was. There just wasn’t enough torturing or killing in it. That’s a weird thing to write, but I think you get the point. That’s the same thing that happens with Fifty Shades of Grey. There just wasn’t enough sex in it, and certainly not enough weird sex, or even racy sex.
At the very end, after Steele is proper fed up with their arrangement (she doesn’t sign the contract in the movie, though it ends with a very clear indicator that a second movie is following shortly behind it), after she’s become frustrated with him for not explaining why he likes what he likes, she tells him something close to, “Fine. Show me. Show me your worst. Show me what you want to do to me. Show me how bad it can get. It’s the only way I’ll understand.” After pretending like he doesn’t want to for a second, he takes her into his sex dungeon, lays her on a table, then spanks her with a belt six times, then she gets super mad. She’s crying, like, “You are NEVER going to touch me again,” then leaves. And, again, it’s just like, What the fuck just happened?
That wasn’t bad. That wasn’t close to bad. Getting spanked six times? That’s it? That’s all? That’s the worst it can get?
When my wife and I left the movie, I spent 10 or so minutes talking like he talked, because that’s thing I still do after movies, because I am a child, I guess. As we walked out, I said, “Hold my hand.” She did. When we got to the parking garage, I walked semi-fast and said, “Keep up.” She did. I opened the door to the car, then, in as terse a voice as I could make, said, “Get in.” She did. While I walked around the back of the car and got in, she checked her phone to see if she’d gotten any messages from the babysitter. I said, “No phones,” then knocked it out of her hand. She said, “Boy, what’s wrong with you,” and picked the phone up. I said, “I said no phones,” then swatted it away again. Then she said, “Stop,” and I knew that tone, so I stopped.
It was funny for a bit, but only for a bit. I’m not near fascinating or alluring enough either, I suppose.
Without getting too specific, I can tell you that after we got home, we had sex, and that we did at least two things that happened in the movie, but I can also tell you that those two things were not something that we’d not already done before. The next morning, I asked her if watching the movie had made her feel more like having sex or less. She said, “Before the movie, it felt like there was this expectancy to have sex afterward. It was kind of exciting. I thought we were going to see something that we’d never seen before or done before; some kind of new position or role-playing or something. But there wasn’t. I just thought there’d be more. There wasn’t a point while watching it where I was turned on. But it was a pretty movie. It was shot well. It had good lighting and interesting colors. So it didn’t make me not want to have sex.”
There’s a 100 percent chance we’re gonna see Fifty Shades of Grey 2.