By Robert Hoatson, Ph.D.
February 26, 2015
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, Fifty 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 what you might read about Fifty Shades of Grey. These fifty shades of Christian Grey were shadows hovering over a young 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 his psyche, 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.
But Fifty Shades of Grey is not a movie about kinky sex. There is hardly anything sexual about the movie. It is about the abuse of power, and its tragic aftermath. It is about a wealthy, handsome young man at the peak of his manhood being incapable of developing a meaningful relationship with a young woman who tries everything (including becoming somewhat of a sex slave) to get to his 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 would.
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, which 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 Fifty Shades of Grey might act as a trigger to those who have suffered childhood sexual abuse. Nor have I read a single article examining the reasons why Christian Grey had 50 shadows hanging over him.
In fact, the titillation factor seems to have dominated the discussion, even among those who haven't read the book and seen the movie, but 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, 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.
Had Christian been able to trust (one of the principal traits taken away from a childhood sexual abuse victim) Anastasia, perhaps he could have come around. Unfortunately, that never happened, and he continued to live in his isolated world.
Robert M. Hoatson, Ph.D., offers counseling to victims of sexual abuse at Road to Recovery in Livingston.