When young couples ask me for a film recommendation, I often tend to blurt out at least 5 or 6 movie titles along with a 5 minute review of every each one. But ever since I first saw "Secretary" I will have only one movie to recommend to those who want to have a movie date. Because I just want to mess with them.
Imagine your friend has told you this great romantic comedy about a secretary falling in love in her boss. Sounds pretty standard and safe, right? Well, now imagine yourself snuggling with your date and seeing the first scene of this movie - a secretary bound in a big shackle-like device walks though an office doing regular secretary tasks. From then on you just know that this film isn't what you were told it would be.
But it is a great one nonetheless. Actually, it's great because of that.
What I like about "Secretary" isn't its original take on a topic most of us consider taboo but its surprisingly stylish and tasteful depiction of BDSM relationships. It tells the story of Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal) - a mentally disturbed young woman with self-harming tendencies - and Mr. Grey (James Spader), her boss, an equally troubled paralegal. As they get to know each other, their professional relationship quickly turns into a sado-masochistic one.
To me, this is a great romance because, unlike many movies of the same genre, it offers us a new perspective on the sexual and emotional relationship between two people. Many of us would be disgusted and repulsed by the "kinkyness" of BDSM, saying it is offensive and humiliating, as well as mentally or physically unhealthy for one or both participants. But the truth is that most relationships have a streak of submission/dominance, which is equal to either taking or giving up control over certain aspects of one's life. I think most people are revolted by BDSM because they always associate it with sex and sexual diversions. But there's more to it than that - sometimes BDSM has nothing to do with sex, but with power and trust. Unfortunately this is something that not everyone can comprehend - they feel that if they don't find something like bondage sexy, it is "sick", "abusive" or "degrading".
"Secretary" does something very important. It shows us why BDSM lovers find it sexy to give or follow orders. And does so with a sweetness and humor that we are not accustomed to with S&M portrayal in popular culture. It also offers us a chance to take a deeper look into our own relationships and possibly understand something more about them. What I've come to find out is that power and control are two extremely important ingredients in a healthy relationship. Moreover, it is the variability in those two aspects that keeps the two together and makes them strong as a couple - where one of the two is strong, the other shows weakness; where one takes control, the other prefers to follow. "Secretary" shows us another interesting paradox - that sometimes strength lies in vulnerability. As the end of the movie shows us, a dominant has control and power on the surface but in most cases a submissive could lead the way on a deeper emotional level.
I heatedly recommend this movie to everyone who is tired of seeing the same formula for films of this genre but I feel obligated to warn you that it's not everyone's cup of tea. You don't have to be a BDSM fan to enjoy it, you just have to leave your prejudice at the door. As far as sex scenes go, there are surprisingly few of them and they serve a specific purpose to the plot, so if you're expecting porn, don't hold your breath. Although it deals with sadomasochism, it does so with an unwonted non-judgemental, gentle manner and it could charm you if you give it a chance.