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Secretary (2002) - Steven Shainberg
Related: American cinema - Mary Gaitskill - sadomasochism in the cinema - 2002 films
Maggie Gyllenhaal in Secretary (2002)
Secretary (2002) - Steven Shainberg [Amazon.com]
Secretary is a 2002 film, directed by Steven Shainberg and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader.
Lee Holloway (Gyllenhaal) has recently been released from a mental institution after her penchant for self-injury resulted in a near-fatal injury. Determined to adjust to society, she learns to type and is hired as secretary to attorney E. Edward Grey (Spader). Grey's disdainful attitude toward his employee turns out to be a boon to both of them, as what initially was a rather strained professional relationship becomes both closer and more personal as it progressively takes on greater BDSM elements. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secretary_%28movie%29 [Jan 2005]
This kinky love story features a standout performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal, an offbeat young actress in her first starring role. Gyllenhaal plays Lee, a nervous girl who compulsively cuts herself, who gets a job as a secretary for Edward, an imperious lawyer (James Spader, an old hand at tales of perverse affection). Edward's reprimands for typos and spelling errors begin with mild humiliation, but as Lee responds to his orders--which are driven as much by his own anxieties and fears as any sense of order--the punishments escalate to spankings, shackles, and more. Secretary walks a fine line. It finds sly humor in these sadomasochistic doings without turning them into a gag, and it takes Lee and Edward's mutual desires seriously without getting self-righteous or pompous. Certainly not a movie for everyone, but some people may be unexpectedly stirred up by this smart and steamy tale of repressed passion. --Bret Fetzer for amazon.com [Only the spanking scene aroused me, what I liked about it, is that it brought SM to the mainstream. After a story by Mary Gaitskill]
With rare exceptions like The Night Porter, cinematic sadomasochism (usually in the form of a cartoonish leather-clad dominatrix wielding a riding crop) has tended to be a visual joke shoehorned into a movie to certify its sexual hipness. But when it becomes the subject of a film, the humor vanishes, and the mood turns grim and clinical. Secretary breaks that mold by remaining gently amused at its fun couple's fantasy role playing. But even when it's laughing, the laughter is more collaborative than derisive. Lee may be shown crawling around the floor with an envelope in her teeth, but the movie still insists on seeing her as a plucky heroine plotting her own sexual emancipation." --Stephen Holden, New York Times, reviewing Secretary September 20, 2002
Christianity Today Movies did not review this film, but here's what other critics are saying … compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 09/26/02 Director Steven Shainberg's Secretary, the story of a secretary who finds happiness by developing a sadomasochistic sexual affair with her boss, is drawing harsh criticism from religious media critics. Gerri Pare (Catholic News) says, "Shainberg presents a positive portrait of sadomasochism as wonderfully freeing and fulfilling even as Lee embraces every degradation, only wanting more. The one-note focus on aberrant sexuality becomes as repellant as the suggestion that Lee is a heroine for insisting on reveling in such sadomasochism. Sadly, there is little true insight in this film which prefers to simply attack the values of more traditional viewers and tack on a smugly happy ending."
Such criticism was not limited to the religious media. David Denby (The New Yorker) says, "The meaning of Secretary is that pain is liberation. This is not a comic idea but a pornographic idea, mixed with defiant anti-feminism: 'If that's what makes you happy, you go, girl.'"
Mary Ann Johanson (Flick Filosopher) is similarly disgusted: "There is nothing beautiful or wonderful about needing to be beaten to feel alive, or worse, wanted, and there is nothing innocent or funny about a man who needs to beat a woman to get aroused. Plenty of women are willing to be treated like dirt by the men who profess to love them for the cycle of violence to be perpetuated. It's really fairly shocking, however, to see a nonpornographic movie feed that cycle."
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