My husband and I LOVE watching movies together. We started dating when we were both attending the same college, which happened to be located in a very small town. This meant that there was never much to do, except “get into trouble”…or watch movies. Brent was one of the lucky students on campus who owned a car (which, of course, was an added bonus for me!) When the papers were written (or not) and we were ready for an academic mental break (or just wanted to spend every waking moment together – because that’s what you do when you first start dating, right?), we would drive in to the nearest town and see a ridiculously cheap movie at the theater, or grab a Tim’s and walk across the parking lot to browse the never-ending, wall-to-wall shelves lined with VHS’s and DVD’s at Blockbuster – the movie rental store.
That was part of the movie-watching experience 10+ years ago, wasn’t it? Sometimes, in the bigger cities, Blockbuster even offered you snack-sized bags of popcorn that you could munch on while you slowly meandered through each aisle, tilting your head every so often to read a title, stopping to pick one up, read the plot summary on the back of the case, just to set it back on the shelf and continue the process. I find it incredibly sad that some of my younger friends will never have that experience – but, I digress.
Movie-watching, together, became a favorite past-time for us, and it still is one of our favorite “together” activities today. Don’t get me wrong – occasionally we do go out for dinner, talk to each other, visit with friends, or play the odd game of seriously competitive mini-golf, but if we can’t find a babysitter to incorporate the theater experience on our date night, we stay in, and rent a newer release online. So it comes as no surprise that we’re already thinking about upcoming film releases for this winter/spring, which of them are top priority, and which ones we should add to our “rent it later” list. (I’m already freaking out about the new Beauty & the Beast – what?!?!) But one that has been on my mind a lot lately is the upcoming Fifty Shades Darker. You saw that one coming from the title, didn’t you? 😉
I have to admit, I started reading the first book after hearing so much hype (when it first came out) and I hated it. But not all of it. I didn’t hate the story-line. I did, however, detest the writing. When the movie came out, there was even more hype – SO much hype! I normally like to let social excitement die down before jumping into whatever it is that people seem to find so enticing, so I didn’t go see it in the theater. Bu-ut, when the film became available to rent, we did. I was curious! Honest moment: Loved it. And I’m ashamed of that fact…now. I actually loved it so much, I purchased it. I know, I know. But just wait.
As someone who has to analyze everything (and everyone) in life, I couldn’t wrap my brain around WHY I fell in love with the story. I think the idea of the film played into a lot of what (most?) women, to some extent, fantasize about. Now, those fantasies probably don’t include an abusive aspect, but I do think that on a deeper level, they do include: a longing – to trust another person completely, dare I say, even submissively. Let’s get real for a moment: What woman does not fantasize about having 5 minutes in her day where she could actually take a break from the overload of her brain? I’m talking about a woman’s brain that, oftentimes, is in constant overdrive. It simply never stops.
For example: It’s 10 p.m. I need to go pack my child’s lunch for school tomorrow. I decide to do that. I go, open the door of the fridge, grab the jam and then you see it – the container of rotten left-overs from two weeks ago. You’ve been telling yourself for weeks that you need to empty that. So you grab it. You might as well since it’s right there (and you simply can’t stand seeing it anymore). You are about to empty the rotting food into the garbage can, BUT, the garbage can is overflowing. You meant to take that out two days ago. You grab the nearest paper towel and using it as a buffer between your hand and the top of the smelly, rotting pile of goodness knows what, you push the garbage in the can down (again), scrape the rotting food onto the heap – but, oh…oh that stench is sickening! You go to throw the containers into the dishwasher quickly to avoid contaminating your small amount of kitchen air with the stench, BUT, your eye catches the sink filled with dirty dishes and you realize that the dishwasher is filled with clean ones. You meant to empty THAT this morning. You quickly grab the dishsoap, squirt it in the rotten-food container to ease the stench, fill it with hot water, and that extra drop from the tap was just enough to make the tower of dirty dishes crash down, sideways in the sink. The dirty water from the soaking tower even had the audacity to splash upwards, all over your last pair of clean PJ’s. And it doesn’t take long before you remember the massive pile of laundry, still sitting in the hallway, that you also meant to do…yesterday. And at the end of all that, you still don’t have your child’s lunch made for school the next day.
Sound familiar? Or am I actually just THAT crazy? I can’t imagine that all of that only happens to me! But maybe it just has to do with my ADHD brain and if that’s the case, you can stop reading this right now. This post isn’t aimed toward to you. 🙂 But for women who experience something similar to the above example, I strongly feel that the underlying theme of 50 Shades of Grey provides just that – a mental break, whether that was its intent or not, because it’s just that – a fantasy.
While discussing my rambling thoughts with my massage therapist one day, she agreed adamantly (and maybe that’s just because she was providing a service and wanted a tip…but…) with, “No kidding! What girl wouldn’t want a mental break? Wouldn’t it be nice to actually have a man take care of your health needs instead of the other way around? Make YOU a doctor’s appointment! Make YOU a healthy breakfast and force you to take the time to eat it!? Sounds lovely.” (These are some things that the main character does in the story.)
Beyond that, what’s so enticing? First, it’s a captivating story-line in the sense that it consistently leaves the reader or viewer with the “what happens next?” mentality, so you tune out real life, (or at least I do with any good page-turner…maybe that’s why I’ve stopped reading books…) That, in and of itself, provides a mental break because you are so captivated with another (un)reality. There are lots of novels that provide this – 50 Shades is just one. But the second reason I find it to be popular is because it provides not only a real mental break, but also a fantasy-related mental break. Again, it may have nothing to do with the sex or abuse (or numerous other issues we could delve into), but rather, in relating to the main female character, we (I, certainly) can desire that break – to give up ALL control in any current situation, even to the point of being required to “not think”, or plan, or control, or micro-manage. It’s a break that (all?) women, to some extent, desire – because it so rarely happens in real life.
So, is 50 Shades…wrong? Other than the obvious pornographic nature of the story, how does it REALLY affect me? As a woman? As a wife? As a mother? As a Christ-follower?
About a year ago I stumbled across a Bible study…on sex; but it was a study just for women. A rare find, I had to go through it. To say it was incredibly enlightening, would be a severe injustice. Focusing on the Song of Solomon, the study scrutinized sex, within marriage, the way God had originally intended it to be. It was honest. Raw. Real. (I like those things. 🙂 ) It talked about things that the church does not normally talk about, even in closer circles of trusted friends. One of the topics discussed was 50 Shades of Grey. To be fair, the speakers for this study never said not to read the book (or watch the film). They did, however, ask some tough questions. Questions that forced me to be honest with myself about my real reasons I was so strongly drawn to the 50 Shades fantasy. Questions that demanded analysis – on the effects it was having on me, my relationship with Jesus, on my husband, in our marriage, and indirectly…even on our children.
Some of the effects I noticed (and I’m sure there are many I am completely oblivious to) were my thoughts, resulting in unintentional action. The word “fantasy” has many definitions, some of which, I found to be most enlightening.
“Fantasy” – obsolete: hallucination; the free play of creative imagination; the power or process of creating especially unrealistic or improbable mental images in response to psychological need.
Whoa! That last one though! I became captivated with the film (since I loathed the book), and found myself thinking (fantasizing?) about the story-line (too) often. When something, even if “innocent”, captivates and fills your mind that you start to lose touch with reality, is that healthy? Is it God-honoring? I like the Amplified Bible’s version of this verse:
Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s Word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart].
When I am filling my mind with something that is anything but God-honoring, it changes my relationship with Jesus, my husband, and my children – they learn by watching their parents, right? When you are in fantasy-land, your focus is on yourself. What do I want? What should I get? How can I better feel that way? How can I get that mental break that I so desperately long for? When you are obsessed, fantasizing – wishing we had something other than what is right in front of us – we, in a way, slap Christ’s nail-pierced hand. Where is the thankfulness for the here and now, for the precious gifts He has already given us? For that husband who loves you dearly and would even die for you? For those children who ask incessant questions because they are curious about the world around them?
When I finally snap out of it, I realize that all of my fantasizing, even if only for a mental break, has actually provided the exact opposite. I’m exhausted! It’s exhausting to be obsessed with something (take it from someone who has OCD). It’s exhausting to constantly wish for more or want for, what we think might be, “better”. It’s exhausting to choose greed instead of thankfulness. It’s exhausting to consistently justify sinful actions. That last one may seem a bit strong, but it’s something we do so often, isn’t it? We tell ourselves, It’s not really THAT bad, or It’s not REALLY affecting me. But for a believer, desiring to follow God whole-heartedly, the end result tends to be the same: on our knees, in soulful repentance. SO, is 50 Shades really wrong? Is watching it or reading the book really…sin?!? For me? Yes. From The Message:
In fact, if you know the right thing to do and don’t do it, that, for you, is evil.
Harsh, James! Harsh!
Dr. Juli Slattery, co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, summarizes my closing thoughts best:
“How ironic that the title of this new movie (and the corresponding book) is Fifty Shades Darker. John wrote, “If we say we have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” I care so deeply about your sex life because I care so deeply about your relationship with God.”
I am completely aware that my experiences, brutal honesty with myself, and even life-challenges will be very different than your own. You may disagree with me completely and that’s OK, because these are my experiences, realizations, and short-comings, and over-comings. It was only a year ago that February 2017 (second film release) could not arrive soon enough. Now that it’s almost here? I think I’ll see what other movies are playing. Maybe an indoor game of competitive mini-golf will be in order. Who knows? I’m fully prepared that when I see the poster ad’s going up, I’ll want to go see the film…a lot. But I also know that the pull I feel towards that film, is not and will not be founded in anything “light”. So I’ll pass by it and smile. Because I will remember that I have chosen to “walk in the light, as He is in the light”. And if I need to make it even better, that knowledge serves as a reminder that my control, my need to micro-manage, my “needs” so-to-speak, have already been relinquished. And in that, there is complete and total rest…even for my over-driven brain.