20th Century Women (2017): growing up with punk, feminism and pre-Reagan politics in 1979 California

Santa Barbara, 1979. The year of Iranian revolution, energy crisis, the beginning of never-ending antagonisms between the West and the Middle East, and the beginning of an end of Detroit and America’s auto industry.

A car that dramatically bursts into flames in the opening scene symbolically represents an end of the industrial force that was once the USA, and on remains of which will all to soon be emerging new and irreversibly destructive, neoliberal politics of Ronald Reagan. However, as this is not a film about American politics, the symbolism of the burning car hides two separate meanings: a car, universal symbol of masculine society and patriarchy, that is slowly disappearing in burning flames, is also indicating an absence of a fatherly figure in our 15-years old protagonist’s life. “This was my husband’s Ford Galaxy,” explains Dorothea, Jamie’s enigmatic mother in a voice-over narration that is constantly reappearing throughout the film, helping us understand the unusual relationship between this chain-smoking single mother who is uncompromisingly bending all existing social “rules” of gender, sexual identity and nuclear family, and her rebellious teenage son who is just beginning to learn about life, love and late 70’s punk scene.

Dorothea (phenomenal Annette Bening), an elderly mother who grew up with music of Cole Porter and films of Humphrey Bogart during the Great Depression, finds herself disconnected from her adolescent son, whose life, problems, music preferences and a subculture he identifies himself with, are too far away from what her generation could ever fully comprehend. This leads her to a conclusion that the generational gap between the two of them is far too big for her alone to be able to raise him. She turns for help to her tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig, charming as always) and to Jamie’s platonic love Julie (Elle Fanning), both of whom spend most of the days hanging out in Dorothea’s Victorian villa. Abbie, who is drawing most of her artistic inspiration from the intangible persona of David Bowie, is an aspiring photographer and a feminist, is introducing Jamie to the vibrant life of underground punk scene, seduction of women, and female sexuality as described in a cult feminist work, Our Bodies, Ourselves. Julie, although merely 16, also has an incredible depth to her – she, just as Abbie, transcends all the stereotypes of women who strive towards stability, marriage, family and security. The two of them, together with Dorothea, form a unique matriarchy in which all taboos of what is an appropriate conversation to have at the dinner table, disappear: women sexuality, pregnancy test, contraception, orgasm and giving birth is just a few of the topics that this film shamelessly touches upon. But where Mills, even if just for a second, becomes truly controversial at breaking the social taboos concentrated around women’s biological processes, is with Abbie’s monologue about (and a tribute to) menstruation – to something that’s absolutely natural, and yet is rarely talked about (let alone portrayed in the media, as recent controversy over Instagram picture showed), causing women to hide all the signs of menstruating, as if it is something disgusting and shameful.

Mike Mills broke into the film scene with his debut indie Thumbsucker in 2005. However, it wasn’t until his second feature, Beginners, that his visual, with collages of photographs intertwined style, and with real situations and personal memories entwined narrative voice fully came into being. 20th Century Women, his third feature, is undoubtedly the most logical follow-up to his previous film, as they perfectly complement each other, in more ways than just in visual and narrative style. However, if he was trying to depict (and in the process of that, understand) his father’s coming out as a gay man at the age of 75 in the Beginners, he now focuses on the other parental half – his mother. It goes without saying that this is another deeply personal film, filled with real-life events and situations, through which Mills somewhat therapeutically analyses an enigmatic personality of his late mother, all while paying a tribute to her indescribable complexity, eccentricity and unquestionable uniqueness.

What Mills manages to bring to the screen is a wonderful story about motherhood and women’s friendship, revolving around three incredibly complex and interesting female characters. However, what he also creates with this timeless tribute to strong and empowering women that shaped his life, is a unique time capsule of what life was like in 1979.

“They don’t know this is the end of punk. They don’t know that Reagan’s coming,” Dorothea says at one point in a voice-over narration. But what they don’t know is that world as they know it will soon forever change with destructive neoliberal politics, a complete destruction of welfare state, endless austerity, and never-ending attacks on women’s (reproductive) rights.

Films released in my lifetime that have influenced me the most

It’s my birthday today and since I thoroughly enjoy doing weird geeky things in my free time that are tons of fun for me but usually make no sense to anyone else, I decided to make a list of my top 3 favourite films of each year that I’ve been alive.

1989 The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover / The Seventh Continent / Mystery Train
1990 Close-Up / Trust / The Match Factory Girl
1991 Double Life of Veronique / La belle noiseuse / Raise the Red Lantern
1992 La vie de boheme / Husbands and Wives / Conte d’hiver
1993 Trois couleurs: Bleu / The Scent of Green Papaya / Naked
1994 Satantango / Trois couleurs: Rouge / Chungking Express
1995 Ulysses’ Gaze / Maborosi / Dead Man
1996 Fargo / Breaking the Waves / Drifting Clouds
1997 Funny Games / Taste of Cherry / The Mirror
1998 Eternity and a Day / Festen / The Big Lebowski
1999 The Wind Will Carry Us / Rosetta / Eyes Wide Shut
2000 Werckmeister harmonies / In the Mood for Love / Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors
2001 Mulholland Drive / What Time is it There? / Fat Girl
2002 Open Hearts / All or Nothing / Hable con ella
2003 Goodbye, Dragon Inn / Dogville / The Return
2004 Innocence / Nobody Knows / Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2005 Water / L’enfant / Cache
2006 Bamako / After the Wedding / Volver
2007 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days / Stellet licht / You, the living
2008 Wendy and Lucy / Revanche / 35 rhums
2009 Antichrist / White Material / Dogtooth
2010 Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives / How I Ended This Summer / Poetry
2011 Once Upon a Time in Anatolia / A Separation / The Turin Horse
2012 Like Someone in Love / Post Tenebras Lux / Amour
2013 La vie d’Adele / Under the Skin / The Great Beauty
2014 Winter Sleep / Ida / Jauja
2015 Son of Saul / The Tribe / The Assasin
2016 Toni Erdmann / Cemetery of Splendor / Certain Women
2017 Moonlight / Raw / I Am Not Your Negro

 

Raw (2016): cannibal teen coming-of-age in this body-horror masterpiece

Horror genre seems to be elevating to a completely new level. Let it be Ana Lily Amirpour’s feminist vampire masterpiece A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon or Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation, one thing is becoming quite clear: horror films are, thanks to these women filmmakers, getting a completely new and refreshingly innovative dimension of scary. But none of those films have been quite as fascinating, disturbing, funny and disgusting as Julia Ducournau’s extraordinary first feature Raw, a blood-soaked coming-of-age story about finding one’s femininity, sexuality and identity.

Justine, a brilliant 16-year old who graduated early, is stepping into the world of adults by following her parent’s footsteps and starting a veterinary college. Away from her protective parents and with no-one but an older sister who hardly acknowledges they are related to look after her, she finds herself in the world of grown-ups – and it’s vicious, unwelcoming and scary. It is no revelation that people can be mean to each other, but a college campus with minimal supervision and control from the administration, proves to be a hell breaking loose as senior students decide to put newbies to test through a series of hazing ceremonies. They trash their dorms, get rid of their mattresses, made them crawl to a raging party in the middle of the night (a scene that turns into a gorgeously choreographed one-take party shot), pour buckets of blood on them in what looks like a group variation of De Palma’s cult scene in Carrie, and force them to eat raw rabbit’s livers.

It is here that film takes an unexpected turn into a gory body-horror. Justine, despite loudly protesting against eating meat as she comes from a family of devout vegetarians, eventually (and much to her sister’s aggressive insistence) gives in – only to suffer the consequences that none of the other students could foreseen. Not only does her body reacts to the food with a rash that spreads all  over her, but she later almost overnight develops a gnawing desire for meat – and along with it, a sexual appetite that soon turns into desire for human flesh itself. Her physical metamorphosis should obviously be read as a metaphor for her going through puberty and coming out of it as a newly-born sexual being that’s still trying to figure out and establish her adult identity. But Ducournau takes the film’s premise of her coming to terms with her sexuality and repressed bestiality a bit further and it is here that her name – inspired by de Sade’s Justine from Justine, or the Misfortunes of Virtues, begins to make sense.

After a hilarious bikini-waxing scene that quite clearly parodies the extent of torture women are willing to go through to fit into the socially constructed understandings of “beauty” and “femininity” takes a dark turn (in what may simply be interpreted as Justine’s refusal to conform to the rules imposed on a female body) and she for the very first time gets a taste of human flesh, Ducournau jumps into a risky territory of introducing us to a new-born cannibal with whom we are meant to sympathise. And it is indeed these insatiable cannibalistic urges – something animalistic that has awoken inside of her – that make us feel uneasy, if not downright disgusted while watching this film. But there is quite a simple explanation for this feeling of discomfort – and we do not have to look any further than to Freud’s explanation of “uncanny”.

Freud’s uncanny involves a paradox in that it concerns something which is at once frighteningly alien and strangely familiar. The feeling of familiarity is equally important as the feeling of strangeness here, as this feeling is always connected to some deep part of ourselves. The “other”, in our case Justine, is thus not truly other, but a core aspect of the self – and this feels uncanny exactly because there is a feeling of recognition. From the point of view of our civilisation, it is nature that is that “primal uncanny”, the other that is actually the core of our being that has undergone a cultural repression. And while horror has a long tradition of blurring the borders between humans and animals, it usually does so by character’s literal transformation into a beast (let it be a werewolf or something else), where it is easier for a viewer to keep some distance and not fully identifying with it. But Justine doesn’t go through any drastic physical changes. She still looks like a normal teenager, whose only changes in character are her growing confidence, more provocative dressing choices, increasing alcohol consumption and experimenting with sexuality. Her bestiality can’t be detected by her visual appearance; it’s hidden beneath the surface, being a part of her core self, as it is a part of all of us. The film plays with the idea that we are all, deep down, animals – something we repressed as soon as we stepped into the “cultured” and “civilised” world of humans; in the symbolic order of language, inter-subjective relations, ideological conventions and the law.

One of Justine’s first victims, her older sister Alexia (strongly resembling Béatrice Dalle from Trouble Every Day; another film that quite disturbingly blurs the line between human sexuality and cannibalism), is actually the one who most persistently tries to pull her out of the world of the law, of the symbolic, reconnecting her with the real. Being a cannibal herself, and already in full acceptance of her hungry-for-human-flesh identity, she tries to teach Justine how she too could fully embrace her newly found insatiable hunger. Their complicated sisterly relationship, always switching between love, friendship and rivalry, is central to the film’s exploration of what it means to be a (teenage) girl, and although Raw is gruesome and gore to the point it may at times be difficult to stomach, it nevertheless manages to deliver an intelligent exploration of femininity, the female body and its appetites. Not only are Justine and Alexia women with insatiable (sexual) appetites, violent impulses and angry outbursts (something usually denied to women on film, if not in life in general) – they also have bodies that bleed, sweat, puke and pee; something that, again, is not usually seen on screen where a woman’s presence is always subjected to pleasing the male gaze. True, the sisters have a taste for devouring human flesh in a quite literal manner, but is the society we are a part of truly that much different fictitious veterinary school where students are developing a taste for raw meat? We may be devouring each other in a more figurative way, but we are doing it nonetheless – for what is capitalism if not people eating each other alive in a competitive fashion, for their own personal gain and success?

Despite Alexia trying her best to make Justine a part of her cannibalistic rampage, her little sister decides against it. And it is here that Ducournau’s main point comes into play: it is not through some pre-existing social order that gets passed down to us from our parents and society we are born into, that we become humane. No matter how cultured, civilised, knowledgeable we are, there is still a part of us that exceeds the symbolic. And it is only by acknowledging this repressed monstrosity inside of us, the monstrosity that has the ability of causing unimaginable cruelty towards another human being, and then wilfully choosing compassion over our hunger for blood, that we can fully gain our humanity.

Get Out (2017): a cutting social thriller uncovering the horror of liberal racism

Half a century ago, still in the middle of America’s Civil Right’s movement and in the same year interracial marriage became legal in a historic court case Loving v. Virginia (recently brought to screen by Jeff Nichols in his last feature film Loving), Sidney Poitier gets introduced to his girlfriend’s white, liberal parents in Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Not expecting their daughter’s boyfriend would be black, they try to keep their cool and be supportive, but are clearly uncomfortable by the fact that a black man is about to become a part of their family. This makes the film escalate into an inter-generational battle of him trying to justify his cultivation and education that would, despite his race, make him worthy of inclusion into their white nuclear family. And while the plot of Get Out, Jordan Peele’s brilliant debut feature, might at first remind us of Kramer’s classic, the times has changed, and so did the ways in which racism still pervades in our society, casually emerging in everyday encounters even when least expected. Which is why Get Out ends up being a very different movie, albeit no less relevant than Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner proved to be back in 1967.

More The Stepford’s Wives meeting Rosemary’s Baby than Poitier’s racial melodrama, Get Out explores and in many ways subverts the horror genre, all while delivering a scathing social commentary on contemporary racism. It flirts with a social satire, but nonetheless remains serious and horrifying in its accurate portrayal and dissection of race relations and subtle, hidden, almost invisible racism of white liberals who, by admiring black culture and treating every black person as a fascinating, exotic Other (while at the same time pretending they don’t even notice their skin colour, because “they don’t see race”), may be equally harmful as far-right alt-right groups and white supremacists whose racism is always straightforward and therefore easier to detect, condemn and argue against. But where Peele’s subversion of a horror/slasher genre really excels is in how it places a final guy in a position that is usually reserved for a woman – an innocent, virginal final girl. Few men have been in this position, and even fewer have been minorities such as Get Out‘s protagonist, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) – and it is this switch of gender and race that makes this movie that much more outstanding.

There is quite a few correlations between Peele’s debut and The Stepford Wives, but each film deals with a different type of social subjugation: if one dealt with a critique of patriarchal society and sexism in the highlight of second-wave feminism, this one delves deep into the core of America’s racism and systematic oppression of racial minorities. And even though it focuses on contemporary racial problems that people, disillusioned by Obama’s presidency and what it meant for racial relations in the country, tried to ignore until things completely escalated in Ferguson, Get Out isn’t afraid to look in the past and leave small hints linking modern-day reality to a time when slavery was still a reality to most African-Americans. Post-racism – a word that was widely thrown around after Obama’s first win, which was also when Peele started to work on the script – is not really a thing, and it never was. But it may have became harder to detect among certain groups of people – namely among white liberals, whose racism became more subtle and sophisticated, undergoing a makeover of political correctness that makes it ever more impossible to talk about race and racial issues in a way these issues should be talked about.

When Chris agrees to go to his girlfriend’s parents house over the weekend, we instantly know that nothing good will come of this. By what Rose (Allison Williams, no less white and privileged than in the role of Marnie in Lena Dunham’s series Girls) tells him, his parents are not racist – and indeed they seem extremely casual and cool by the fact that their daughter is dating someone who’s black. And yet casually (and in most instances, unknowingly) racist comments start to creep into the conversations after some time – especially when Chris finds himself in a company of Rose’s brother and her family’s friends. Some seem to be fascinated by his “genetic makeup”, his potential physical strength, muscles and supposed endowment, others feel like they have to mention at least one famous black person while carrying a conversation (“I know Tiger Woods!”), stating that they would vote for Obama one more time if they could, or simply state that “black is in fashion these days”. Even though each of them carefully avoids acknowledging Chris’s race, they are throwing out comments they would never even think of saying to a white person. Why? They simply see him as Rose’s black boyfriend, a generic black man, instead of as a person – Chris, a photographer that he is.

But things get even weirder when Chris realises that his girlfriend’s supposed liberal white parents who voted for Obama and pride themselves in being open-minded and enjoy to experience new and different cultures through their travels, have a black gardener and a maid; two characters that, at first, seem as the archetypes of old Hollywood’s representation of African-Americans. Walter, physically strong but somewhat creepy and potentially violent is a perfect representation of what was once known as “a savage”, and Georgina comes across as a classic mammy who seems to enjoy nothing more but to serve her white employers and swipe dust off drawers. But Peele’s mind-blowing twist shows that nothing is as it seems – not only is Rose’s family not what they present themselves to be, but Walter and Georgina also turn out being two entirely different people. As does Rose.

SPOILERS AHEAD! 

The entire film is permeated with symbolism and smartly coined phrases that only once you see the film all the way through – or revisit it for the second time – reveal their double meaning. It starts with the intro, where a seemingly unconnected story of a black guy’s abduction unfolds. A white car that creepily slows down and hunts down the man who got lost in the suburbs is reversing the symbolism of the colour white that usually represents something pure and innocent – in contrast to the colour black that tends to be associated with death and evil. Subtle symbolism such as this re-appropriation of the meaning of a certain colour (that in reality all too often gets extended to the understanding of a certain race; white as pure, black as deviant and evil, as portrayed from D. W. Griffith’s 1915 The Birth of a Nation forward) is to be found throughout the entire film – from Rose’s mother wearing white when she first hypnotises Chris, sending him into the Sunken Place, to Rose wearing white in the final, most brutal act where she goes full on psycho and her drinking white milk in a real A Clockwork Orange fashion while her boyfriend is supposedly getting lobotomised in the basement. On the other hand we have the colour black which is continuously re-appearing in relation to something dangerous and bad – as Rose’s dad quite early on explains, there’s “black mold” in the basement which makes it off limits, not to mention there’s people arriving in black attire and limousines that have more resemblance to the funeral than to an annual family meeting (that is, as it is later revealed, a modern-day slave auction disguised as a game of bingo).

But the symbolism hardly stops at colours that Peele smartly incorporates in certain scenes. On a way to Rose’s family estate, far out from the city, the couple hits a deer – and while the accident has a strong connection to Chris’s personal hit and run story, to the way his mother died, the dying deer is first and foremost meant to represent him. Not only is Rose the one who is behind the wheel, causing the accident (as she is also behind the wheel of a racist scheme her family is planning) – she is also the one that initially hunted him down like game and is just waiting to hang his picture up on a bedroom wall among her other trophies, in the same way taxidermied deer is exhibited on the wall where Chris is later held captive. That the deer is supposed to represent Chris who is walking into a trap no one could have ever predicted becomes even more apparent after they tell her parents about the accident. Her father’s response about hating deer and how eradicating them would be a service to their community has a double meaning if we pay close attention to the words he uses. When he casually slips the word “buck” into his argument about deer overpopulating the area, it is hard to say if he is really still talking about animals, since the word “black buck” was once widely used as a racial slur to describe black men who refused to bend down to the authority of white men.

Casually incorporated racial slurs that are mostly long forgotten, games of bingo that end up being slave auctions, a throwback to old Hollywood’s stereotypical portrayal of African-Americans and a helmet resembling a Ku Klux Klan’s hat that Jeremy wears when abducting black victims in his ironically white car (an image that gives a whole new meaning to a “knight in shining armour”) is just a few of Peele’s reminders to tragic history of African-Americans. But although we overcame the portrayal of black women as devoted housemaids and men as savages, representation of black people still hasn’t broke free of stereotypes such as gang members, funny sidekick best friends and sassy girlfriends. White supremacists are also alive and well, maybe more than ever now that Trump’s presidency gave a big thumbs up to openly expressing one’s racism. But where I find Peele’s horror-satire most successful is in how it subtly incorporates the question of slavery into the film. Slave auction may seem horrific and somewhat archaic from today’s point of view, but modern-day slavery is a reality that we need to stop ignoring. An auction selling Chris’s body to the highest bidder represents just about any young black man who finds himself in front of a white jury and judges who have the power of holding his whole life in their hands. Chris’s captivity therefore directly correlates with a devastating number of black people currently incarcerated (and used as a free working force; which is nothing else but slavery transferred from plantations to private prisons), while disappearance of his conscience into the Sunken Place represents black people’s feeling of paralysis and helplessness for living in a system that was set out against them from the very beginning. And it is of course no coincidence that the only thing that makes them break free from the Sunken Place is a use of a mobile phone – as phones have been an important part of bringing the reality of police brutality and unjustifiable murders of black people to the public and made discussions about systemic racism, racial inequality and racial profiling possible.

Fifty Shades Darker (2017): a love letter to capitalism and patriarchy

Fifty Shades Darker is without a doubt one of the worst films I have ever seen. But if I struggled to understand how such a film could ever be released and embraced by the audiences two years ago when its predecessor, Fifty Shades of Grey, hit the theatres, this second edition to the series hardly left me in any such disbelief. I left the cinema utterly disgusted and shocked about just how bad a film can be, but surprised that this is what brings people to the cinema, that this is what women are willing to spend their money on? No, not anymore. We are living in a Trump-era after all, and it is hard not to see some parallels between Grey’s disturbing treatment of women and Trump’s own sexual assault accusations and disgusting remarks about him being entitled to grabbing women’s genitalia whenever he feels like it. If we are living in an era where the worst kind of misogyny can get you into the White House, should we still be surprised that this kind of film not only gets released without worldwide protests against it, but even makes hundreds of millions of dollars of profit? I guess not.

Grey’s luxurious penthouse could easily be mistaken for the top floor of Trump’s Tower (minus all the gold, although there is a Red Room to make up for that; or should I say REDRUM? Because let’s be honest, it’s only a matter of time when Grey goes full-on Jack Nicholson in The Shining), and his naive, if not just plain stupid, young girl undoubtedly bears some resemblance to Trump’s damsel in distress as she, although not from a foreign country, continuously acts like she just fell from another planet. Having been reading 19th century novels by Jane Austen and  Brontë sisters for most of her adolescent and adult life, she seems to have overlooked the fact that two hundred years and three waves of feminism have passed between now and then, leaving Western civilization thoroughly changed in the process. Women not only got the right to vote and semi-equal opportunities in the professional world, but we also witnessed to a sexual revolution that gave us the right to form and claim our own sexual identity. But this all seems foreign to Anastasia who, at 27, is still a virgin. Which makes her a perfect victim for our modern-day Mr. Rochester who manages to win this clueless and inexperienced girl over with his pockets full of money – as well as with (or maybe despite?) his disturbing and creepy possessiveness that gets alarmingly romanticized in what should be a fictional (#FreeMelania inspired) caution tale about domestic abuse.

At the end of the last film we parted our ways with this troubled couple just as Anastasia, disturbed by discovery of Grey’s appetite for “kinky fuckery” (if anyone wondered whether dialogues get any better this time around, I hope this term alone answers your question: fuck no), dumped his rich stalkery ass and went to live her life on her own terms. But just as she starts working at her new job, Dorian Grey bursts back into her life – and he doesn’t need to do much more but to sweet-talk her over one really expensive dinner before she ends up right back in his arms. This time without the contract. But wait, just an hour and a couple of boring vanilla sex scenes later (seriously, for an erotic movie this film did not even manage to get this part right) he romantically proposes to her just as he wakes from a terrible nightmare (because this is how every woman wants to be proposed: during a nightmare that is quite possible a metaphor for a marriage that is yet to come). She says yes, of course – because how could she not if this is exactly what it takes for her to once and for all waltz into the world of the 1%? The contract is therefore hardly  ever mentioned throughout the film – but then again, isn’t a marriage licence (at least for a person such as Grey) exactly the same piece of paper? Won’t this certificate give him the ultimate control and possession of her? Won’t she simply become his property, obliged to do exactly as he pleases? This is, after all, what she is already doing – only to always putting up a bit of a fight before doing as she is told, like this will fool any of us about her supposed strong will and independence. He already has a file on her, has a hold of her bank account, is tracking her phone and even forbids her to go on an important business trip – which she dutifully obliges. So, what’s next? I’d say her getting locked in his Trump Tower (sorry, my mistake, I obviously meant Grey’s penthouse) where sexual assault will become just one of many ways for Grey to unleash his inner demons (but, as Trump would say, no sexual intercourse can be interpreted as rape inside of a marriage, so all is good, right?).

As I have already established in my previous review: this is a love story about capitalism (as well as patriarchy; the two go hand in hand after all), but this movie is quite less ashamed to admit that compared to the last one. A particularly laughable sex scene that follows their reconciliation is therefore not even trying to be erotic, as if the real turn-on for the audience is actually yet to come a few moments later: by Grey telling Anastasia that he makes 45.000$ every fifteen minutes. And because glamorizing the life of the 1% is all this film is actually about, the list of such ridiculous scenes just goes on: Anastasia getting to choose from custom design lingerie and costumes for the ball at the sight of which she looks more aroused than half of the time she and Christian are actually intimate; her learning about his place in Aspen, to which he smugly replies “I have a lot of places” (and off they go, to have sex, because what’s sexier than a guy you’re dating, even though possessing no personality whatsoever but a sadistic need to cause women pain, telling you that he has real estates all over the country?) and her learning how to drive his enormous sailing boat (one of the most ridiculous scenes in this film where I didn’t know if the whole movie crew was just absolutely fascinated by the fact that boats can drive on water or they just really wanted to sell this particular boat to us as the film seemed to have ended there for a second and jumped to a commercial).

There is absolutely nothing that is not to hate here – from awful dialogues and awkward and stiff performances (with the exception of Dakota Johnson who at times looks like she is actually making fun of her own role, which is really the only right way to approach her ridiculously pathetic character), to guest performance of Kim Basigner who probably got paid a nice sum of money to get a drink spilled in her face and then slapped just a moment later in the most fabulous Mexican telenovela fashion. But her presence mostly just reminded us of how much steamier erotic dramas could (and should) be, since her 80’s film Nine 1/2 Weeks, despite its obvious flaws, managed to do the genre justice that this trilogy can only dream of. Because to be honest, despite the misleading Darker in the title, there isn’t one erotic scene that I would not find laugh out funny – including the one in the big finale when Anastasia finally asks if they could make love in the Red Room. S&M, something that is supposed to be the biggest marketing niche of the franchise, is here once again reduced to using a satin blindfold and handcuffs (oh the kinkiness of it!) which eventually leads to sex in – wait for it – good old missionary position. Instead of normalizing the fact that some people indeed practice S&M and that there’s nothing wrong with that (as long as it happens in a safe environment and with consent of everyone involved), this film tries to normalize and romanticize stalking and possessiveness of a man; of him trying to dominate and control the woman’s life completely, in every sphere of her private and professional life, as if thousands of women aren’t endangered every second of the day by men who act just like that. As for the fetishes that should be at the center of this utterly awful story – the only fetish I managed to detect throughout the film was ultimately the one that both Grey and Anastasia share: money.