(Major spoilers ahead for “Fifty Shades Freed”)
As a sort of connoisseur of cinematic guilty pleasures, the “Fifty Shades” trilogy is among my favorite movie franchises. It’s basically the romantic drama equivalent of a B-level action flick — all about the visceral pleasures without any real attempt at satisfying traditional standards of coherence, orienting its decidedly self-aware storytelling entirely around both physical and emotional titillation. In other words, it’s just the best.
“Fifty Shades Freed” manages to take the series to all new heights. Full disclosure, I have not read these books — the movies are tinged with a sort of goofy irony that I worry the books are too earnest to match. So if you have read the books, what I’m about to discuss probably isn’t news to you.
But for me, as someone for whom the movies are my primary point of reference, the ending of “Fifty Shades Freed” blew my mind for how weirdly oblivious it appeared to be to the point it seemed to have spent its entire running time trying to make. It was one last inexplicable gag to make me question whether I was laughing at or with the movie.
This kind of thing is the real joy of “Fifty Shades” for me — not being able to tell if I’m getting out of it what the filmmakers want me to get out out of it is part of the fun. There are undeniable deadpan comedy elements in all three movies, but I can’t tell how hard they’re winking at me.
The conclusion of “Fifty Shades Freed” is the greatest of these moments. That it plays out roughly the same as it did in the book (I looked it up after I saw the movie). That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a joke in its movie form, but it’s tough to tell. Anyway, let’s get right into it.
The twist in “Freed” is that Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and villain Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) were both orphans who lived in the same foster home when they were young children. And the reason Hyde was so incredibly mad at Ana (Dakota Johnson) — and Christian both that he tried to kidnap Ana and did actually kidnap Christian’s sister Mia (Rita Ora) — is because Christian was adopted by rich people and Hyde was not. Christian, upon discovering all this, comes to the correct conclusion: Maybe he, too, would have been a terrible person had he and Hyde swapped places. (Ignore the fact that these movies have never really depicted Christian as a “good” person).
It’s true that environment and upbringing have a major impact on what kind of adult a kid will turn out to be, and Christian is absolutely correct to ponder what kind of person he would be if his and Hyde’s roles were reversed. And since Christian at that moment has also finally come around on having kids after being adamantly opposed to the prospect the entire movie, the message here seems pretty clear: Christian and Ana should adopt some kids! They could use their ridiculous billionaire means and the lessons learned from the whole Hyde situation to maybe help some other kids from taking that same turn, and just make their lives better in general. Use all the wealth to do something positive for the world! By all the normal ways stories work, that feels like the entire point of the Hyde arc.
But then they just have their own kids instead. Ana is already pregnant by the end of the movie, and in the epilogue scene set a couple years later she’s pregnant again. No lessons were actually learned, apparently.
I have no idea if the movie wants me to note the weird irony of the situation. Is this some kind of commentary about how awful rich people are? Or is it really that oblivious to the moral of its own story? I don’t know what author E.L. James intended, and I don’t know what director James Foley intended. And maybe I don’t care, because the mystery is the fun of it.
As a result, “Fifty Shades Freed” is a Schrodinger’s cat of a movie — both ironic and sincere, aware of itself and also having no clue what it’s doing. What’s the real answer? Is there one? We’ll probably never know, and I am more than OK with that.