Fifty Shades Freed 

Feature length commercial for luxury goods or chilling glimpse into the post-human future?

Dakota Johnson (left) and Jamie Dornan interact with expensive products in Fifty Shades Freed.

Dakota Johnson (left) and Jamie Dornan interact with expensive products in Fifty Shades Freed.

How can we understand Fifty Shades Freed, the final installment of the Fifty Shades Trilogy? The usual method would be for me to rehash leading parts of the plot, rate actor performances, reference the director, and then offer some sort of comparative survey with other movies. You'd gain an understanding of the movie's context, make an informed decision about viewing, I'd get paid, and we'd live to see another day.

I wish I could go about writing my review in the normal way. If Fifty Shades Freed were a normal movie, by which I mean a movie made by and for humans, I might be able to. But unfortunately our usual critical tools are useless here. Allow me to explain.

In the early 1970s, a batty anthropologist and cyberneticist named Gregory Bateson wrote a weird little book called Steps to an Ecology of the Mind, which you may have encountered had you spent your undergraduate years haunting underfunded departments of a liberal arts college. Bateson contemplates what it is truly like for a gorilla to communicate with another gorilla. How, he asks, might we think about this ape-to-ape exchange without corrupting it through our own perception of communication? In thinking about how animals communicate, is it possible to illuminate the limits of our own consciousness?

I thought of Bateson while I sat in the theater, looking at a "movie" called Fifty Shades Freed. This sequence of intentionally crafted visual stimuli bears coincidental aesthetic similarity to a movie. Humans say things to each other. Images of objects appear to move through space. It is rated R for Strong Sexual Content. But I believe Fifty Shades Freed is nonetheless not a movie at all, but something far more pure — a pristine document of the market economy, a kind of visual after-image created as an incidental side effect of the exchange of large sums of capital.

I don't think I need to delve at length into the plot to tell you that the true motion of the film — what dictates the script, what encourages the change of scene — is branded content. When Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), billionaire sadist, escorts his nubile wife, Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) toward the Learjet that will whisk them away on their honeymoon, she gawks: "You own this?"

He offers a reassuring smirk: "We own this."

Then there are a lot of scenes where sports cars are driven, fancy butt plugs utilized, smartphones consulted, modernist houses displayed, grand pianos panned over, Aspen visited, and so forth. Dornan and Johnson are entirely flat, less emotionally developed than clydesdales in a Budweiser ad. There are some winky moments that suggest machine learning has reached a point where computers can emulate humor. But basically the point is just sports cars.

click to enlarge film_wedding.jpg

The extent to which objects star and humans are repressed in Fifty Shades Freed is incredible. It's like Jeff Koons directed Toy Story. It's like a live action Brave Little Toaster on mute. It's like one of those gothic romances where a nervous housewife becomes convinced that the curtains are haunting her, only without any of the haunting, and the curtains are very expensive.

When we, humans with eyeballs, look at Fifty Shades Freed, what we see is an incidental record of money doing as money does, moving as money must move within the dictates of capitalism. We literally cannot perceive the truest form of Fifty Shades Freed because, to do so, we would have to be money ourselves. We're as helpless at trying to decode it as if we were trying to guess what gorillas are saying to each other. Understanding is not possible for us. Per Bateson, our only recourse is to use this experience as a way to explore the outer banks of our own ability to understand.

When you see Fifty Shades Freed, and I hope you will, I think the best thing to do is to make note of where, exactly, it departs from your humanity. In what manner, exactly, do you feel crippling, debilitating alienation? In so doing, you will have a better record of what it means to be human. Hold onto that humanity. You'll need it for whatever comes next.


Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Favorite

Speaking of Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan

Fifty Shades Freed
Rated NR · 2018
Writer: E.L. James
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Rita Ora and Luke Grimes

Trailer


Now Playing

Fifty Shades Freed is not showing in any theaters in the area.

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • A Star Is Born

      Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper dazzle in a rare remake that feels necessary.
    • The Sore Losers

      Mike McCarthy’s dangerous vision of garage rock decadence, returns for a Gonerfest encore
    • First Man

      Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong in this flawed biopic

Blogs

News Blog

U of M Lowers Out-of-State Tuition

News Blog

City Council Considers Plastic Bag Tax

News Blog

The League is Live for "Ambitious Singles"

Hungry Memphis

On Crosstown Cafe's Look

Intermission Impossible

Lizzie Borden Rocks Theatreworks

Fly On The Wall Blog

WMC Has Something to Say About Uranus

News Blog

City Removes Lime Scooters

Politics Beat Blog

Reminder: Early Voting Continuing Through Thursday, November 1

Film/TV/Etc. Blog

Music Video Monday: Harlan T. Bobo

From My Seat

National Baseball Day

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Eileen Townsend

Readers also liked…

  • Death Grip

    Memphis filmmaker Sam Bahre talks about his 11-year struggle to create I Filmed Your Death.
    • Apr 19, 2018
  • The Lost City of Z

    A mesmerizing story of obsession in the Amazon jungle
    • May 1, 2017
  • 2017: The Year In Film

    Taking stock of the big screen’s good and bad.
    • Dec 28, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation