Secretary was recommended to me as a “very sexy” film for those with Taken In Hand inclinations. But one Taken In Hand person I talked to vehemently disagreed, saying, “This movie is an insult! It implies we're sickos, and it was obviously made by people who have no idea what we're about. The humiliation in it was offensive. I'd tell him where to stick the garbage.” I decided to see it for myself.
If you watch it hoping for a film about Taken In Hand relationships, you will probably be a bit disappointed. For a start, there are some scenes which have the appearance of humiliating BDSM-style tests of submission.
Secondly, early in the film, we learn that the main female character, Lee, has a compulsion to cut and burn herself—yuck! The first time I watched the film, both she and the main male character, Mr Grey, struck me as weak and screwed up. In accepting humiliating tests of submission such as going through the industrial-sized dustbin to find a document, Lee seemed like a bit of a doormat. And far from being calm, gentlemanly, and strong, Mr Grey seemed disrespectful and short-tempered. My initial impression was not that good.
However, as I discovered, there is another way to watch this film, one that makes it well worth watching. Once I stopped expecting to identify closely with the two main characters, and relaxed about the BDSM humiliation and tests of submission, I started seeing lots of valuable aspects of the film, and would now recommend it.
I see it as a story of redemption. Here are two individuals so screwed up that one wonders how they will ever find happiness in their lives... and by the end of the film, they have clearly found deep happiness and contentment in a rich, fulfilling relationship with each other.
Moreover, this happiness is not pulled out of a hat, it is the result of what they themselves want (dominance and submission) and the actions they themselves take. That is a terrifically positive message about the power of this sort of relationship to help people solve their apparently intractable problems.
It is quite clear that no matter how weak and troubled Lee was at the beginning of the film, by the time of her sit-in, she is very strong indeed. Instead of being angry with Mr Grey for needing to test her love and submission, she calmly, resolutely, and proudly submits. Here is a woman so accepting of, and clear about, who she is and what she wants, that even when besieged by the media and many people all trying to get her to move, she remains seated as Mr Grey has told her to. It is her single-minded pursuit of the relationship that wins the day.
Mr Grey is, for most of the film, tortured by his dominant desires and fighting them all the way. Whether one is BDSM-inclined or Taken In Hand inclined, I think one can empathise with his inner struggle. Many of us have wrestled with inner doubts about whether what we want is okay. Mr Grey does not accept himself at all—until Lee helps him to do so. At one point, in a voice full of anxiety, he says, “We can't do this 24/7!” Lee replies with clear-eyed simplicity, “Why not?”
This is not to say that Mr Grey is as useless as he appeared to me upon first viewing. In fact, he is the first person ever to really see and understand Lee. He gives her visibility, and it is he who releases her from her compulsion to mutilate herself. It is this that then enables Lee in turn to help him to accept himself, and without that, there would be no relationship. So each redeems the other.
This film depicts the development of a relationship which empowers each person to grow and flourish, just like any other good relationship. Even if the individuals were as rational as you or I, this would be a positive message; but Lee and Mr Grey initially were both deeply troubled, so, to me, the message is even more positive, because it is that much more difficult to create a good relationship when you have deep psychological problems! We should not be insulted by this film at all!
Upon second viewing I noticed many nice touches: Lee's response to the spanking (not to mention her checking whether it had left marks on her), her attempts to provoke Mr Grey into spanking her, her response to Mr Grey's failure to be provoked, her total failure to make herself and her desires understood by her conventional boyfriend, and her total lack of arousal during sex with the conventional boyfriend. All this rings so true.
The relationship that Lee and Mr Grey end up with is warm, very loving, joyful, exquisitely nurturing, and appears to the outside world quite conventional. They are a couple living a perfectly normal life together… which incorporates BDSM. They look just like you and me, rather than appearing weird. They could be your next-door neighbours.
Well worth watching; you just have to watch it in the right spirit.
If you have seen it, what did you think?