Archetypes: Film: Review: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ (2015)

Universal Pictures and Focus Features

Universal Pictures
and Focus Features

If there’s a semblance of saving grace to the inert sexual drivel that is Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s the film’s gauzy archetypal connection to the myth of Persephone, whom Hades abducted while she was picking flowers and took to his Underworld lair.

Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and based on the novel by E. L. James, the movie, as its Persephone figure, features virginal, unworldly, slightly awkward English Lit major and soon-to-be college graduate Anastasia Grey (Dakota Johnson), whose innocence and genuine warmth beguiles 27-year-old Seattle billionaire mogul Christian Grey (Jamie Dorman).

The duo meet when Anastasia interviews Christian – he’s a benefactor of the college she attends – for the school newspaper. Although he lacks any Mephistophelian aura or subversive airs, it turns out he oversees a mini-version of Hades – his bondage-stocked “Playroom” with its assortment of ropes, riding crops, blindfolds and apparatus as implements to enjoy sex the only way he can. “I don’t do romance – my tastes are very singular,” he tells her. “It’s the way I am.”

The obvious compartmentalization of Christian’s professional and kinky-private life is signaled from the movie’s first frames as we see all his neckties folded neatly in separate boxy sections of the drawer. He’s a “dominant,” not a cuddler, and invites Anastasia to be his “submissive” in exchange for his “devotion,” which entails a contractual agreement, full of Saturnian rules. Unlike Hades’ Persephone, Anastasia can choose freely to commit to Christian’s terms.

Most of Fifty Shades involves a plodding push-pull, will-she-or-won’t-she-comply rhythm that drags down and draws out the skimpy narrative. However, even though Anastasia enjoys just a taste of what Christian’s offering, she gets to know herself in the process. Persephone, after all, was referred to by a generic name before she became Pluto’s handmaiden. She earned being called Persephone after her experience in the Great Below. Sex, whether in the Underworld or the Playroom, can be a good teacher, especially when it comes to negotiating.

Early on, when Anastasia arrives at the front of the building that houses Christian’s empire for the first time, she gazes skyward following the contours of the edifice, suggesting that it’s a gigantic phallus she will come to know. Audiences, on the other hand, will size up the experience as massive deflation.

Archetype: Transformer. Dominant. Submissive. Rules. Sex.

Astrology Archetype: ♄ (Saturn) ♇ (Pluto)

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