Ceilidh: Let’s talk about Exit To Eden. You and I have seen this film far more times than is probably reasonable or healthy but it’s hard to deny that it’s a fascinating train wreck, not only as a film but as a pop culture experiment. It’s a pre-Showgirls era adaptation of an Anne Rice erotica with an added buddy cop comedy diamond heist subplot starring Rosie O’Donnell and Dan Ackroyd. Even with the raging coke habit that usually accompanies Hollywood executives (allegedly), this couldn’t have made any sense. Nobody could have seen this as a good idea from a creative or business point of view.
Megan: You fail to mention I actually used to sneak watch Exit to Eden when I was little on HBO for the sole fact my parents wouldn’t let me watch the BDSM bits and I was all, “Why is she tying him up, mommy?” Probably what ruined me for today. Anyway, yes, Exit to Eden both as a movie and the original book make little sense, but don’t forget – the adaptation was directed by the same guy who adapted…wait for it… The Princess Diaries.
But here is a good question indeed. Since it seems Fifty Shades of Grey – The Hollywood Spectacular will not be adding in a buddy cop element, where do you think it can go wrong? Or could it be… I don’t know, *gasp* good?”
Ceilidh: “Good” is such a strong word. One can really only do so much with terrible source material, and make no mistake, 50 Shades of Grey is garbage. A lot of its faults remind me of the faults in Rice’s book – it’s basically plotless, the central couple are wholly uninteresting, nobody seems to know how BDSM actually works (although you get the feeling Rice did a touch more research than James) and the prose is stilted. The final bit can be dealt with more effectively in a film since you can cut off the fat and leave behind what is necessary, dressing up the dialogue as you see fit. When the plot is basically two people fucking, you need to deal with that, so on some weird coke driven level, I can almost understand the crew of Exit to Eden adding a subplot. Not that subplot, but a subplot.
Then again, it wasn’t really that necessary. This film came out a year before Showgirls so the NC-17 rating wasn’t the film killer it would become. The rating was still primarily known for its attachment to adult themes, mostly sex, but it wasn’t a joke yet, so conceivably they could have made a straight erotic drama. I don’t think it would have been very good but it could have been passable, and at least sexy. That’s a big issue with this movie. It’s painfully unsexy. And cheap. For a supposedly luxury resort, everything looks really thrown together. I’d be demanding a refund if it were me.
Megan: Maybe Exit to Eden would have been better with a subplot expanding the cast of characters already in the books. Like, I don’t know, you could even throw in the story of some of the guests trying to save their marriage through BDSM. Or obviously you could have just given some plot to the story without a story about diamond smuggling and Iman. “Lick my thigh!” Okay, that was one of the better parts of the movie. That and her shower scene with the two hot citizens.
How is Fifty Shades of Grey going to work without being straight rated NC-17 and being full on sex? The sex scenes – minus the tampon scene – have to be an easier sell than the hours of meandering conversations, asshole Christian, and inner monologue. How are they even going to manage the inner monologue without pulling an Amy Dunne diary entries type move?
Ceilidh: I’m still clinging to the possibility that Sam Taylor Johnson and crew have bypassed the creative control EL James has apparently demanded for the film and turned it into a sly satire more akin to American Psycho than anything else. That book has potential to be truly fucked up in the best way possible, but James and too many women see it as an ideal romantic situation, which is disheartening on so many levels. I hope they don’t go for voiceover, if only to avoid the Inner Goddess nonsense. I imagine a lot of close-ups of faces and ambiguous body parts. No thrusting, of course. According to This Film Is Not Yet Rated, the MPAA do a thrust count. Apparently the movement itself is more scandalous than any number of O-faces.
Exit to Eden did at least cast attractive people in the central romantic role, they just gave them nothing to do. The guy from Strictly Ballroom’s arc seems to be “I gave it a go but I’d rather have the heteronormative conservative ideal” while Dana Delany, who had some serious potential with her story, struggles to retain her dignity as she goes from confident and in control mistress of an entire private island of decadence to a giggling schoolgirl hopelessly in love with some guy she’s just met and knows nothing about.
The book goes into her story more but honestly I’m glad they cut most of it. Who needs more of this clichéd family nonsense? “I had a tough relationship with my dad therefore I must let out my frustration through BDSM because why would any normal person indulge in this behaviour?” 50 Shades pulls this nonsense too. Only men with crack whore mothers do the nasty!
Here’s the thing – it’s really not that nasty either. The kinky fantasies presented aren’t really that lurid or interesting. Part of me thinks this might be because the island is a safe haven free of stigma from such things, but it’s probably more to do with budget restrictions. Everything looks so cheap (although I do love that this island has a gift shop.)
Megan: Ugh, when I saw the 50 Shades trailer, at first I’d wondered if it HAD turned into a psychological thriller about a girl being entrapped in a relationship with a sadist, but nope, just a meek girl portrayed as being about 12 physically and mentally who for some reason wants to be in a relationship with a psychotic asshole. The biggest problem I had with Fifty Shades of Grey the novel was that Anastasia clearly was not into BDSM, she was into Christian, and it came off not as BDSM but as an abusive relationship mentally and physically. She was there because she was into Christian and what he represented, not because she was down for BDSM. And Christian’s desire for a BDSM relationship was just cliché. How many real people get into BDSM because they had an abusive childhood?
In Exit to Eden, though, yeah, it’s a very vanilla portrayal of BDSM. The kinkiest things are the cliché things of BDSM – whips, chains, and leather bustiers. It took the whole idea of domination and submission and just made it into couples using a citizen – one of the submissives – as their personal bag carrier, or in the case of Rosie O’Donnell’s assigned citizen Tommy, to sleep in front of the door because it didn’t have locks. I mean, I wouldn’t mind having a shower full of hot men to do my bidding, but Eden as a resort just wasn’t a BDSM resort. It was a resort where vanilla swingers sex happened and it was acceptable.
Ceilidh: The more I think about it, the more the “no locks on the door” thing really concerns me. Consent still matters, guys. An unlocked door is not an open invitation. Consent seems to be a non-issue in both books, and the popularity of this trope should worry everyone, especially now with Yes Means Yes laws finally coming into public discourse. It’s almost as if both see having to have an adult conversation about engaging in safe, sensible and desired sexual activities as a mood killer. Guys, Rush Limbaugh once said that. You don’t want to be like him.
Attitudes towards BDSM range from a limited number in a lot of mainstream conservative driven discussion, and in both Exit to Eden and Fifty Shades of Grey we get a taste of them all – disgust, confusion, and seeing it as a joke. Dan Ackroyd serves as the token sneering cop here (this is the movie he’s most embarrassed by. I’d say Blues Brothers 2000 is a more insulting film, personally), telling cheap jokes and generally treating the island’s visitors like they should be arrested. Well, until the end and he discovers women like vibrators. Weirdly, it’s Rosie O’Donnell’s character I like the most. Yeah, the buddy cop comedy character not in the book is the strongest part. For one, Rosie’s actually trying to do something with the material, even when it’s trying too hard. Her character’s also the most sensible. She doesn’t see BDSM as dirty or shameful. She just says it’s something people like to engage in, and as long as they’re not hurting anyone, why bother them? Seriously, EL James, take note!
Let’s focus on the central relationships for a bit. 50 Shades has Bella and Edward… Sorry, Ana and Christian, while Exit to Eden has Elliott and Lisa. None of these characters really have personalities, although I was admittedly intrigued by Lisa’s fragments of a backstory. The idea of her entering the life of a dominatrix through her submissiveness and a pretty illegal interaction with a professor promised something far more interesting than what we got with this film, but it’s also the closest we get to anything sexy in the film. It’s not sexy at all, don’t get me wrong (cheesy sax music!), but you could see the cogs turning with some potential. Wouldn’t you be a bit disappointed if you’d been invited by limo to this gorgeous big house to strip naked for a mysterious man, only to find out it’s Julie Andrews’s bodyguard from The Princess Diaries?
Megan: And Mia’s teacher in The Princess Diaries was played by Rosie O’Donnell’s assigned door guarding citizen, just to mention that. It just puts The Princess Diaries into a different perspective, doesn’t it?
Rosie’s character Sheila is in reality the main character of the film version of Exit to Eden, mostly because she happens to be the narrator of the story and it’s her that puts everything together and, in the end, saves Lisa and Elliot after they fall in love after about five days and flee to New Orleans for some “Australian kink” (croissants and buttered breasts). And yes, she even seems more accepting of BDSM than Elliot, who has one interest in BDSM at the end of the day – he likes being spanked. Everything else for him is trying to show his own domination by being flashy, a show off, and not respecting the fact that he’s there as a submissive. In the end, he paid a shit ton (because on Eden, you have to pay THEM to be a slave) to be spanked, but had no interest in the other aspects of Eden. But yeah, at least Dan Ackroyd’s character Fred sort of comes around by the end with the purchase of the marital aid.
In reality, though, that part of the movie with Hector Elizondo was the only somewhat accurate look into D/s. It’s all an exercise in trust. Somewhat accurate, because by the end of that short scene it was back to being a cliché. Meanwhile, in Fifty Shades of Grey, you have a girl who isn’t into BDSM but is into a guy who is into BDSM because his mother was a crack whore and seemingly wants to punish all women as a result.
Ceilidh: It’s gross, to use the professional term, but it’s also stripping women of their sexual agency. Ana doesn’t really get the chance to say no and she takes Christian’s word as gospel, even though anyone who’s ever spent 15 minutes on Wikipedia or FanFiction.net would be able to tell that his concept of a dominant/submissive relationship is twisted and frankly pretty dangerous.
Lisa is similar in some ways. She may be in charge of the island and may get to spank Elliott a little but it’s clear that what she’s really supposed to desire is a societally acceptable pretty conservative man-woman marriage with kids and a white picket fence. At least it’s not the woman saving the man from his horrid kinky fate as it is with 50 Shades. Heaven forbid someone like being spanked because it feels nice or a woman want to be in charge.
The film also strips the book of its queerness, although part of me is relieved about that. Rice makes it pretty clear that both Elliott and Lisa are bisexual and prefer relations of the same sex. Lisa’s assistant on the island, who is featured in the film, is her lover a good chunk of the time. While it would be nice to see non-heterosexual relationships given some airtime (notice how everyone in the film is straight and more often than not white), keeping the book’s implications that being queer is part of the bad kinkiness you need to get out of your system would be problematic to say the least. It’s also worth noting that in the book, Elliott signs up to be a submissive on the island for a lot longer than is depicted in the film. We’re talking years longer. He’s also paid a lot for the position. That would have been an interesting dynamic to explore if written by literally anyone else. Get Tiffany Reisz on this story!
Exit to Eden doesn’t get BDSM, we both know that, but film in general, at least mainstream studio productions, wouldn’t get it for a long time. It took until 2002 for an indie film to get something reasonably accurate. Now there’s a film we both enjoy.
Megan: Because contrary to popular belief, you can do an adaptation of a D/s relationship story and not make it entirely creepy, although I think that Secretary does have some issues in the portrayal of mental illness being an entry point into needing domination and control, but maybe in the sense of this story, it made more sense than, say, Ana needing Christian because she was just a meek girl who had a hot guy telling her she was pretty and needing that support to be less insecure with herself.
But in Secretary, what we have is a definite, mutual relationship based around Domination and submission. We have a lawyer who hires a new typist in a girl recently released from a mental institution, and who cuts herself to deal with her issues. Lee and Edward’s relationship is nothing like what you see in Exit to Eden or Fifty Shades of Grey. This is a consensual relationship where both participants are very into the roles they play, where they WANT the roles they play. Lee, the submissive secretary, and Edward, the domineering boss who at his core really does want to protect and love Lee. And that’s what makes the movie successful, where the other two fail.
Ceilidh: Secretary is not without issues – Lee doesn’t exactly consent to being spanked at first, even though she clearly enjoys it, and having Lee administer said spanks as a ‘cure’ against her self-harming was wobbly psychology at best – but it does have a number of things both 50 Shades and Exit to Eden are sorely lacking. For one, Lee and Edward have chemistry by the bucketload. One caress with a pinkie elicits more excitement from the audience than any number of awkward spanks and whips in the other two. It knows when to hold back and how to apply the kink when needed. Moderation is key. Even though nothing going on is that high on the kink chart, it still packs a punch and feels organic to the relationship. It’s not used for shock value, which seems to be the entire foundation of 50 Shades. Look, everyone, I am an adult and this is what adults do!
(Also, Christian Grey = E. Edward Grey. Yeah, we saw what you did there, James, and Mr Spader is not happy).
Here’s a potentially loaded question, one which may give us answers we’re not especially eager to hear – will 50 Shades of Grey be a success?
Megan: I WISH a sexy spank could cure all my neuroses and issues, but alas, I don’t get the appeal of spanking. In Secretary, it’s just like you said – the sex is doled out in very small bites, and there isn’t anything truly illicit until the tail end of the movie. The sexual tension is brought out in the way things are said, in commands, and then in touches, in spanks, and in more traditional BDSM ways. Meanwhile, just judging by the Fifty Shades of Grey trailer, which looks like nonstop sex in all its forms, and as creepy man who looks like Patrick Bateman.
But if you’re forcing me to be honest, I think Fifty Shades will be a success. The taboo on sex is gone, considering how many women openly read the books and voiced their love, and while it’s on the down slope, I still think the movie will bring in about $50 million opening on Valentine’s Day. It’ll be promoted as a date movie to liven up your sex life, and with Sam Taylor-Johnson directing, it’ll at least be well made, right?
Ceilidh: Yeah, it’s going to do well, I think, if for no other reasons than it’s reasonably low budget, has a great release date and the perpetual hype machine will push curious arses into seats. It’s currently in reshoots, which suggests further polishing of turds, but this is probably going to be a relatively review-proof movie, unless something major goes wrong. I’m almost wishing they’d add a buddy cop comedy subplot. Anyone got Iman’s phone number?