Has there ever been lower-hanging fruit than the cinematic adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey? The movie has tens of millions of devoted fans set to queue up, and tens of millions more wondering what all the fuss is about. And … how to put this delicately? It couldn’t possibly be as bad as the book.
And, indeed, director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s adaptation is not nearly as painful an experience as E. L. James’s novel. The author’s sub-leaden prose is gone, thank goodness, as is the internal monologue of her 21-going-on-14 protagonist, Anastasia Steele. There are no holy shits, holy cows, holy craps, holy fucks, or holy Moseses; no boys or oh mys or jeezes. There’s no mention of Ana’s “inner goddess,” let alone of it “doing the merengue.” For this, we can all be grateful. (Much of James’s dialogue, alas, is rendered intact.)
Taylor-Johnson also tones down, to some degree, the most troubling element of the novel. In it, the sexual encounters between college student Ana and her paramour, the 27-year-old billionaire tycoon and S&M enthusiast Christian Grey, are never nonconsensual in the most literal sense. But her consent is frequently coerced, as my colleague Emma Green has noted at length. Christian makes clear that he wants to explore new sexual territory. Ana makes clear that she does not. He makes clear that it’s his way or the highway. She relents out of fear of losing him. By cutting out Ana’s internal monologue, Taylor-Johnson removes many of the moments in which her unhappiness with Christian's sexual mistreatment is made most explicit.