With The Submission of Emma Marx, I have now seen four different variations of Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), including the official version.
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015, dir. Sam Taylor-Johnson)
The official one was only really good for an elementary school sleepover. They showed next to nothing to the point that it was laughable, and Anastasia Steele was the worst English major ever to only name a few problems with the film.
Old Fashioned (2014, dir. Rik Swartzwelder)
Old Fashioned (2014) was one of the most offensive pieces of garbage I’ve sat through all year. If you thought Fifty Shades was bad in its’ portrayal of women, then are you in for a surprise with that movie.
Pleasure or Pain (2013, dir. Zalman King)
Pleasure or Pain (2013) could show more than the official one, but you OD’d on the massive amounts of erotica pretty quickly.
This movie can show everything that the official one couldn’t show and more even in the edited down to softcore version I watched, which was plenty for me. This has a Christian Grey who is willing to be alone in a room with a woman whereas Clay wouldn’t do that in Old Fashioned. Unlike Pleasure or Pain, this does a good job of not overdoing the sex and doesn’t wear out its’ welcome in general. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its’ problems, but it is still the best one I have seen so far.
According to Jacky St. James in X-Rated: The Greatest Adult Movies of All Time (2015), she read the book Fifty Shades of Grey, and was offended at the way the female character was portrayed, so she wrote the script for this movie. That’s a good thing, but it will lead to some stiltedness about the film.
Let’s jump in.
Like a lot of movies, it doesn’t actually begin with the title card I put at the beginning of the review. This one starts and continues like a film noir in that it has a lot of voiceover narration by Emma Marx (Penny Pax). She is getting her butt paddled by this movie’s Christian Grey.
He is William Fredricks who is played by none other than my favorite steak cutter from Erotic Ink (2011).
Erotic Ink/Love Is a… Dangerous Game (2011, dir. Eddie Powell)
That’s Richie Calhoun. No relation that I am aware of to urban cowboy Rory Calhoun.
Angel (1984, dir. Robert Vincent O’Neill)
The voiceover starts off with Emma asking the audience if they are curious about how the person you think you were can vanish and “someone new is born.” It then cuts to the bed with the title card on it. This is a bed made up for a couple who act both as the “normal” opposite of Emma and Mr. Fredricks, but are also there to open the film with a sex scene. But first he proposes to her. However, unlike an opening kill in a slasher movie, this sex scene goes on for an inordinate amount of time. I expected better here. Especially when the rest of the movie does hold itself to a higher standard. I kept track, and it lasts close to 20 minutes. On the upside, it does serve a purpose. It is meant to show you very vanilla sex to contrast with the three other scenes that we get between Emma and Mr. Fredricks.
With that marathon done, Nadia (Riley Reid) decides to shove her engagement ring right in the face of Emma.
I don’t recall exactly what Anastasia was doing going to meet with Grey, but Emma is going to see Mr. Fredricks to complete her masters thesis on gender equality in the workplace. It’s because he hires a disproportionate number of women as employees. To be exact, 97% of his 2,000 employees are women. She says to us that she has interviewed a lot of people “from female executives to male nurses to transgender women battling the glass ceiling.” If you are thinking that line felt a little forced, then you’re right. It’s a little Tasha Yar and Samantha Carter in early episodes of Stargate SG-1. Like the overly long sex scene, it too has a purpose though. It is supposed to make sure that BDSM doesn’t mean a surrender of equality, that she is in somehow being manipulated into it, or that this means she is a pervert/abnormal. We’ll get the same from him. He is also never portrayed as some sort of wounded deviant. They are both intelligent people with their own beliefs, and are always treated as such. Again, it can feel forced at times, but it still works in the end.
Now we meet Mr. Fredricks.
Since they have to save time to actually have sex scenes, they get right to talking about how he likes to be dominant and the enjoyment that can be derived from surrendering control to someone else.
This is probably as good a time as any to mention Penny Pax’s voice. I mentioned that there is voiceover narration throughout this, but I didn’t mention that while Pax does a fine job when onscreen, she really does have a horrible voice for narration. It works for the character and when we can see her, but when it is disembodied, then it gets to you.
The conversation went well for Mr. Fredricks because she goes home and masturbates. She wakes up the next morning to Nadia bringing her a letter from Mr. Fredricks requesting her to take advantage of an opportunity he is going to offer her, but only after she has graduated. He states explicitly that she is not to contact him till then.
We now get a montage of the last four months before her graduation passing by as she ponders how she will respond to giving up control when she lives by such rigid control in her own personal life. That’s when she gets a call from Mr. Fredricks. She wonders where he got her number.
My words exactly.
Finally, the four months pass, so she receives her instructions about where to go and how to be dressed.
I love this set. The table acts as both a distancing device between them because of where they stand at the start,…
and it also keeps an equality between them through its’ symmetry.
It wouldn’t be a Fifty Shades movie if it didn’t have some sort of negotiation scene. The difference is that she actually knows everything in the document. We don’t get stupid questions about butt plugs. In fact, she recognizes that it is “a contract soliciting [her] for a BDSM relationship”. She says that isn’t for her and gets up to leave. However, he reminds her that despite what she is saying, she did show up wearing exactly what he told her too, so he moves in to see if his instincts are right. They are as we know from the scenes that followed this one where she was very excited at this prospect.
I also accidentally caught Penny/Emma with a great surprised look on her face.
Now they have pretty vanilla sex till the very end when he adds a little BDSM element in the form of a tie that goes through her mouth to bind it.
We wake up in bed only to go into a flashback about their further negotiations that they had the night before. They worked out an equitable situation, which includes a job at his company. It lasts for a few minutes, and that is the last we here of it in the movie. Very refreshing when a movie can show what it is supposed to be about, and doesn’t have to pad itself out with stuff like negotiations because it wants to keep its’ R-rating. I love that he explicitly says “I won’t chase you, although, I’ll probably want to.” Not even Clay Walsh in Old Fashioned–a religious Fifty Shades–could do that. He also explicitly tells her that it would be fun to do it at work, but that as soon as work from 8 to 5 is over, she has no obligation to him until the weekends when they really have their fun. I mentioned it before, but at times it does feel forced even though it’s nice to hear.
She finds this whole thing exciting, new, and so unexpected from someone like herself.
Of course it’s no secret that the woman on the right is Jacky St. James making a cameo appearance in her own film. She did the same thing in Erotic Ink, which she didn’t direct, but did write.
Erotic Ink/Love Is a… Dangerous Game (2011, dir. Eddie Powell)
Upon her next visit to his house, he is still easing her way into the world of BDSM, and she likes it.
Emma and William develop a relationship where they both enjoy BDSM that is a metaphor for not being ashamed of who you are, not surrendering your rights as a human being, and not accepting being portrayed or thought of as broken just because other people think you are a deviant. It’s not surprising that this is the theme of The Submission of Emma Marx seeing as it is also present in Erotic Ink. There too, the main character had a judgmental couple who she knew, and another unusual guy played by Richie Calhoun in her life that she was fascinated by. In this film, it’s the soon to be married couple that is judgmental about her decision. However, they seem to get over it, and appear to get married. They too have every right to live their life the way they choose.
Just before Emma and Mr. Fredricks reach mutual happiness, he does throw her out because she begins to tell him that they are both deviants. He doesn’t follow her like he promised. She discovers that there’s nothing really wrong with her after spending time helping Nadia out with her wedding, and returns to him.
Of course Jacky St. James wasn’t going to let the movie end without recreating the most famous shot from Fifty Shades that I included at the beginning of the review.
I recommend this film. It is less of a typical pornographic film, and more of a political statement. If I have to choose between the horrific and abusive Old Fashioned, the tease and somewhat offensive Fifty Shades of Grey, or the endless erotica of Pleasure or Pain, then I’ll take The Submission of Emma Marx. However, I am worried about the sequels seeing as this does feel like a finished story.