I am an ex-Irish Christian Brother, ex-priest, survivor of sexual abuse, and advocate for thousands of sexual abuse victims for over a decade. Recently, I saw the movie, 50 Shades of Grey, but not for reasons one might suspect. I saw the movie because a preview I read mentioned that the title character was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. I was not interested in being titillated with images of intimate sexuality, nudity, or pornography. I was most intrigued by how the film would depict the life of a childhood sexual abuse victim, and I was not disappointed.
The movie I saw on opening night in a packed New York City theater was not about sex, despite all one might read about 50 Shades of Grey. The fifty shades of Christian Grey were unfortunate shadows hovering over a young, handsome man who seemingly had never received any counseling, psychotherapy or sympathy for the sexual violation of his innocence as a boy. The movie was about the “break” in the psyche of Christian Grey which led him to fear intimacy, vulnerability, passion, and friendship. Christian Grey needed an intervention by a compassionate advocate to help him understand how his life had ironically cycled out of control despite his efforts to control everything and everyone.
50 Shades of Grey is not a movie about kinky sex. There is hardly anything sexual about the movie. It is about abuse of power and its aftermath. Christian Grey, a wealthy, handsome young man at the peak of his manhood is incapable of developing an intimate and meaningful relationship with a beautiful young woman who tries everything (including becoming somewhat of a sex slave) to get to Christian’s soul. What she did not realize was that her boyfriend’s soul had been murdered as a child and, as a result, he could not emote as most normal human beings can emote.
I am hoping psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and other mental health professionals will view this movie and weigh in on its psycho-social and psycho-sexual implications. The “toys” that Christian Grey possessed (women, cars, helicopters, ropes, chains, handcuffs, etc.) never brought him peace, security, or satisfaction. They exacerbated his profound loneliness, a loneliness that can be traced back to his childhood when an adult’s sexual abuse isolated him from the rest of humanity and made him feel shame and guilt.
I haven’t read a single review, summary, or article that warns prospective viewers that 50 Shades of Grey might be triggering to those who have suffered childhood sexual abuse. Nor have I read a single article deciphering the reasons why Christian Grey had 50 shadows hanging over him. In fact, the titillation factor seems to have taken over for the millions who have read the book and seen the movie, but as far as I am concerned, there was nothing titillating about the movie. There was sadness, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder in the film, at least that’s how it struck me. I felt sympathy for both characters because the female could not get through to the male to prove her genuine love, and the male was incapable of being loved through no fault of his own.
When I left the theater after watching 50 Shades of Grey, I was disappointed that the real spark of love between Christian and Anastasia was never formalized in a love scene or in an act of intimacy. I had a hope as the movie progressed that Anastasia and her obvious love for Christian would bring him around, but he was not capable of accepting her love. I wondered as I sat through the movie if Anastasia would get to the heart of the matter and recommend to Christian that he be seen by a trauma specialist. Perhaps had Christian been able to trust (one of the principal traits taken away from a childhood sexual abuse victim) Anastasia, he could have come around. Unfortunately, that never happened, and he continued to live in his isolated world.
Robert M. Hoatson, Ph.D.
Road to Recovery, Inc. (offering compassionate counseling to victims of sexual abuse)
P.O. Box 279
Livingston, NJ 07039