I watched 50 Shades of Grey.
There. I said it.
And I believe it was the right thing to do.
You’re not the first person I’ve told. The reactions have been interesting. The most common response has been, ‘I understand, Scott … but be careful. Not everyone in the Christian world is going to see this the same way you do.'
So allow me to explain why.
It’s impossible to spend time on social media these days without being inundated with reviews, reflections and memes about 50 Shades of Grey.
Fans of the books are frustrated about the job the filmmakers did in translating it from page to screen.
Press junket junkies can’t help laughing at how uncomfortable the film’s stars seem to be with each other (and with the film itself).
Reviewers are frustrated that their jobs require them to inflict the film upon themselves.
And, as is so often the case, a segment of Christian culture have lambasted and decried the film ... without actually watching it.
(Films with smaller marketing budgets take note: If you want to get people talking about your film and to do your promotion for you, pick a theme that makes Christians feel confused and uncomfortable and they’ll do it for you.)
This is, of course, the online equivalent of picketing something. Of shouting without listening, judging without knowing and teaching without learning. It is the internet version of the Pharisee who stands at the front of the Temple thanking God he is not a sinner like the man next to him. (Luke 18:9-14) For the bazillionth time, Christendom is angry about a kind of sex while the rest of the world is fascinated by a relationship. (I’m not sure but I might be more annoyed by the people jumping on the bandwagon with books like 50 Shades of Pray — Proof Attached.)
Should I ignore it?
I can ignore the conversation that 50 Shades has started in our culture about sex, relationships, pain and redemption … but should I? Any book that has sold this many copies is going to play a part in shaping our world. When my first book came out, I remember a friend saying that she would read it after she finished 50 Shades … The idea that both books might sit atop one another on the same night stand was jarring to me and reminded me that more people are consciously or unconsciously shaped by this story than I might have expected … even more so now that it is a film as well. But if I choose to engage rather than ignore then I must watch the film. I can’t question or speak truth to a story that I haven’t heard.
If I watch a film that Christians object to, will I be judged for it?
The simple answer is ‘Yes’ … but that doesn’t mean it is something to be avoided. Jesus was criticised by the religious elite for the gatherings and parties he attended. Paul constantly frustrated the Jewish communities that Christianity grew out of by listening, learning and living amongst the Greeks whose practices Jews found despicable. It was his willingness to immerse himself in the secular life of Athens that gave him the ability to communicate the Jesus story through their symbols and poetry even though it brought him uncomfortably close to the idolatry and sexual exploitation that went with it. If I am trying to follow their example, does that not mean engaging with elements of my culture that I may find distasteful? Can I claim to understand if I refuse to engage?
Am I jeopardising my own journey by watching a film with this kind of content?
This is a question of discernment that every Christian faces every day rather than just on the release dates of controversial films. Could the images on the screen lead me to lust? It’s possible … but that possibility exists every time I open my laptop and connect to the internet. It exists on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It exists whether I’m watching Community or Cruel Intentions. The question of lust is not whether or not we see images or people that could spark lust within us but how we react when we encounter potential temptations.
For example, I find Nathalie Portman very attractive and that is one reason that I avoided watching Black Swan, as I had heard about some of the scenes in the film. Does that mean I didn’t find her unhelpfully attractive in Garden State, No Strings Attached or V For Vendetta? Nope. If I find a person attractive then there is always the potential for lust. The content may or may not amplify that but the biggest issue will be me, my heart and my choices. The reason I watched 50 Shades rather than Black Swan is that Shades has started a conversation that I feel I can contribute to.
The simple truth is that if I was seeking to be aroused rather than aware then I could just open another browser and dive into the bottomless pit of pornography that the internet offers and then not write a blog about it. There would be no need to go to a public place filled with people to get my rocks off.
Finally, can I justify spending money on a film that fuels societal trends that wreak havoc on hearts, lives and relationships?
Not when I have a friend who works in the cinema and can get me free tickets … Though I think this is an over-simplification of the bigger question we all must answer about ethical living. It strikes me as disingenuous when Christians wearing clothes made in sweatshops sit around drinking coffee picked by slaves and pat themselves on the back for not giving money to a certain segment of the Hollywood beast after seeing American Sniper the week before. Ethical living is a far bigger issue than what films we watch, especially since the funds from all films essentially end up in the same two or three bank accounts.
So I watched it. And it was terrible, both as a story and as a film. There are many, many moments that I found hard to watch and I don't recommend. But it was also a fascinating look into the stories and themes that are capturing our hearts and minds as a culture.
I’ll have my theological reflections on the film up soon … I just didn’t want that conversation to be hijacked by speculation over whether or not I was wrong to watch it.
Coming Soon: 50 Shades of Grey: A Tale As Old As Time