Secretary: the film

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?

the boss

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Comments

Mixed emotions on this one

We saw this film too. It was about 6 months ago, before Dan and I started DD, but still years after I had realized I was submissive to Dan.

I had the same reaction as the other Taken In Hand person, at first: *WHY* did they have to show such damaged people and such odd stilted scenes? It seemed to give the message that feelings like ours are bad and wrong.

Then Dan pointed out the movie-makers make films for a mass audience. That the people making the film felt the surreal effect was necessary in order to make money. The producers' thinking goes like this: your ordinary, everyday movie-goer would not find it interesting to watch a real DD or D/s or BDSM couple falling in love in a realistic way.

I don't agree with that attitude, but I can see how the producers of a film would.

My favorite part, and maybe the only part I really enjoyed because I could relate to it, was the end. I won't spoil here it for others who haven't watched it, but the way he treats her at the end, when he carries her up to his room, was very sweet and romantic. And you are so right about the redemption. Especially when he orders her to stop the cutting; that was a great scene.

I can't say I'd ever recommend this movie, because it is so bizarre in so many ways, but it was a good film, as long as people don't take it as some kind of blueprint for BDSM or D/s relationships.

Btw, "Secretary" was based on a short story of the same name that I have read since. Don't bother with the short story, IMO; it bears little resemblance to the film.

The short story

"I had the same reaction as the other reader, at first: *WHY* did they have to show such damaged people and such odd stilted scenes? It seemed to give the message that feelings like ours are bad and wrong.
Then Dan pointed out the movie-makers make films for a mass audience. That the people making the film felt the surreal effect was necessary in order to make money. The producers' thinking goes like this: your ordinary, everyday movie-goer would not find it interesting to watch a real DD or D/s or BDSM couple falling in love in a realistic way.
I don't agree with that attitude, but I can see how the producers of a film would."

Are you saying the eponymous short story didn't depict the secretary as cutting and burning herself? That that was just added by the movie makers?

Dove

Secretary, why not a straight Taken In Hand movie?

I think there is more to the reason why you don't see more of a Taken In Hand type of relationship in contemporary movies. There is so much politically-charged energy about domestic violence in society, and a type of feminism which seeks to paint any form of male dominance as, at best, violence waiting to happen, that it would be hard to finance and distribute a film that portrayed the sort of relationship with which readers here would identify. By starting with a young woman who is into self-mutilation, you show your audience that this is a step up. Just as Exit to Eden got by as a slapstick comedy painting most of its characters as in it merely for play and the only serious relation had the woman in control.

This is a fairly recent development in American cinema. If you look at films from the 30s through the 60s, and maybe a bit later, you find many that include either spankings or threats of spankings by men to women who generally respond quite favorably. From the Naughty Flirt and It Happened One Night in the 30s to Charade, McClintock, Blue Hawaii and Donovan's Reef in the 60s a threat, a single slap, or a serious paddling with an implement demonstrates to the female character that she is under the protection of a real man.

Spanking in movies

It's true that in movies the woman generally responds favourably to being spanked, but I wonder whether this actually reflects reality? In how many instances would the spanking just have caused resentment or anger if it had been done in real life? This is something I often wonder about, because although I find these spanking scenes in movies very enjoyable, I have never personally found being forcibly spanked at all beneficial.

There's one film I remember 'Bluebeard's Eighth Wife' with Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert, in which he spanks her and she bites him in the leg. In the next scene you see him looking mortified, while she's putting iodine on his leg "I always bite people when they spank me" she explains calmly. I feel that this is perhaps just as accurate a reflection of reality as those films where the woman responds favourably.

I personally thought that 'Exit to Eden' was great fun, though I was disappointed that the only spanking was by a woman, I did think it was a very funny film though.

The fact that 'Secretary' did so well at the box office maybe suggests that more people are attracted by that kind of relationship than one might think. I was quite surprised when the spanking scene came in at, I think, No.47 in a Channel 4 poll of the sexiest moments in films and TV.

My own personal guess though would be that spanking a woman if you don't already know that she likes that kind of thing would be just as likely to produce a negative as a positive reaction, and would be a rather dodgy thing to try. All those cinema heroes who did it and got away with it are lucky they didn't get bitten in the leg like Gary Cooper.

Is it Entertainment or a How-To Instructional?

It's true that Secretary doesn't quite cut is as a 'How-To'... one of the main examples being that Mr Grey did not have any sort of consent from Lee before giving her the first spanking (from there she knew it was coming—or stirred it up deliberately—implying consent).

As a movie that is entertainment it shows some great character development, each learning to be true to their own nature even moreso then just falling in love. The relationship in the end has been the key to the healing of both of the characters. In Taming of the Shrew it is only Kate who is healed.

As a thought-provoking and catalytic movie—I think this is very beautiful and a great 'starter' for the curious. I had feelings that I was scared to start a conversation about with my husband until we watched the movie together and began to talk about it. We have read/watched/researched a lot more since then to work out where we fit in this brave new (under-)world, but this was the thing that gave us 'permission'.

I don't see any of it as sick or peverted—I love it—just not as a perfect 'how-to'.

Suzette
_______
"But sun it is not, when you say it is not; And the moon changes even as your mind. What you will have it named, even that it is; And so it shall be so for Katharina."

Healed?

Whether Kate is healed in 'The Taming of the Shrew' is debatable. Personally I think she's more squashed and crushed than healed. I mean, saying the sun's the moon etc, what kind of man wants to reduce a woman to that state? It's degrading.

"By the faith I have in mine own noble will, that childish woman that lives a prisoner to her husband's pleasure, has lost her making and become a beast, created for his use, not fellowship."—John Fletcher 'The Tamer Tamed' Act One, Scene Two.

The liberation of a shrew!

Whether Kate is healed in 'The Taming of the Shrew' is debatable. Personally I think she's more squashed and crushed than healed. I mean, saying the sun's the moon etc, what kind of man wants to reduce a woman to that state? It's degrading.

Hi Louise,

I have to disagree with this. (I’m thinking here of how Liz Taylor portrayed it, having not seen the John Cleese version recommended here). She is not at all squashed, but is fully and freely submitted to Petruchio. She is not sullenly agreeing to be a brainwashed fool; she is agreeing that she is happy and comfortable in her position subordinate to Petruchio. Where, before he had "tamed" her, she was argumentative and disagreeable in her disagreeing, now she is announcing, teasingly, that she will follow his lead happily. Whatever he says he wants of her, she will give. I think it’s a delightful scene of her liberation from her froward, peevish, and very unhappy harridan, to a liberated (from her own disgruntlement), loved, and happy wife.

In her following his lead in teasing (and dumbfounding) the traveler they meet, she is making clear to him that she HAS accepted his leadership

It's one of the things that makes Taming such a delightful and wonderful play, I think.

Mike's GIrl

Teasing and dumbfounding

Well, it would be very nice if that was the case, if the Liz Taylor interpretation was the correct one, but how can we know? Is she meant to be teasing when she tells him the sun's the mooon etc, or is she just too squashed to say anything else. i must say that the method Petruccio uses to 'tame' her, wearing her out until she's too exhausted to do anything but submit doesn't suggest to me a terribly happy outcome.

The 1929 film version with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford makes it palatable by having her overhear him boasting how he'll tame her and decide to play him at his own game, when she's making that speech about how women should abase themselves before their husbands, you see her nodding at the women behind his back, and they get it. I do think that it is rather difficult to see anything 'teasing' about that final speech, the abject grovelling that Katherine recommends is not what I understand a Taken In Hand relationship to mean, at least it's not what I understood it to mean when I first started reading this site, although some recent material has made me wonder.

At the beginning of 'The Tamer Tamed' John Fletcher's seqeul to the 'Shrew', Petruchio's friends, discussing his new marriage to Maria, say "she must do nothing of herself, not eat, drink, say "Sir, how do ye do?" or piss, unless he bid her." Not quite a happy Taken In Hand relationship. By the end of the play, however, Maria has made Petrucchio realise that she is not a woman who can be browbeaten. This exchange takes place between them:

Maria: "I have done my worst, and have my end: I've tam'd ye, And now am vow'd your servant. Look not strangely, Nor fear what I say to you. Dare you kiss me? Thus I begin my new love."
Petrucchio: "Never no more your old tricks?"
M: "Never, sir"
P: "You shall not need, for as I have a faith, No cause shall give occasion."
M: "As I am honest, And as I am a maid, yet all my life, From this hour, since ye make so free profession, I dedicate in service to your pleasure."

What has happened is that Petrucchio has realised that Maria is not a woman who can be browbeaten or bullied like poor old Katherine, she will not be 'tamed' by coercian, but only by kindness. To my mind, what Maria and Pettruchio have at the end of the 'Tamer Tamed' is much closer to a Taken In Hand relationship (at least how I understand it) than what Katherine and Petrucchio had.

My own submissive desires were always suppressed because my husband's occasional attempts at domination always made me feel as if he was trying to bully me into doing what he wanted, he was the TS version of Petrucchio, whereas now I feel more that he is the TT version. I can allow my submissive feelings free rein because I can trust him not to abuse his ability to exert authority over me, he's not going to try and crush me or force me to do something I really don't want to or anything like that. i prefer TT to TS.

Jareth's proposal in Labyrinth

What might be interesting would be to compile a list of books, films, and songs that demonstrate a Taken in Hand relationship. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think about this, is Jareth's proposal in Labyrinth:

Beware. I have been generous up until now, but I can be cruel... Everything that you wanted, I have done. You asked that the child be taken, I took him. You cowered before me, I was frightening. I have reordered time, I have turned the world upside down, and I have done it all for you. I’m exhausted from living up to your expectations. Isn’t that generous? Stop, wait...look what I’m offering you: your dreams. I ask for so little. Just let me rule you, and you can have everything that you want. Just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave.The Labyrinth [emphasis mine]

The real Kate?

I saw "Taming" on stage as a child, and Petrucchio smirked and mugged at the audience during Kate's submission speech. It was nauseating. My memory of Richard Burton is that he was in tears! Much better. My reading of Kate is that, however her reputation for frowardness started, it reached the point where she herself could not believe that anyone could love her, making her even crankier, and so on and on. Raging is her version of Lee's cutting and burning; damage to self that Petrucchio/Mr. Grey ends and supplants by Him-administered pain. Grey has an easier time of it, as Lee's self-harm was inner-directed, Kate's aimed at her father and the world at large. Petrucchio, like a Zen teacher, has to break through her self-talk; wear her resistance down to the point where, having said the old man is a girl, and the sun the moon, and got her to accept it, he then can tell her he loves her. Unbelievable, but she must believe it, for so she has pledged!
Somewhere in this thread, one mentioned that Lee saved Grey in a way that Kate didn't save Petrucchio. True, sez I, but not relevant. "Secretary" is not to "Taming" what "West Side Story" is to "Romeo & Juliet".

Petrucchio and Mr Grey

I don't think there is any comparison between Mr Grey and Petrucchio. Mr Grey is genuinely concerned for Lee and wants to help her when he tells her she's not going to cut herself again. Petrucchio doesn't give a damn about Kate, he just wants a docile wife. There's nothing Zen-like about him, he's just a bully. Kate isn't healed at the end of the play, she's broken. The only version I ever saw of 'Taming of the Shrew' that was palatable was the Douglas Fairbanks/Mary Pickford film where she is just humouring him to get her own way, and nodding at the other women behind his back while he sits there smirking smugly.

Stage business

I must disagree. If Petrucchio comes across as a bully, so do half the other characters. There is a vein of Three Stooges slapstick all through this play, and it is not confined to Petrucchio. Petrucchio twists Grumio’s ears in II:2, Grumio strikes his fellow servants in (I think) III, Vincentio strikes Biondello in V. But the most of the violence is not aimed at Kate, but done by her. In Act I:1, speaking to Hortensio, she threatens “To comb your noddle with a three-legg'd stool”; she ties her younger sister’s hands together (II:1) and quizzes her about her many suitors, and strikes her when the answers do not suit. And when their father blocks a second blow, Kate speaks out all the rage and grief that are the egg of her foul, violent reputation.
(Yikes! Now I’m writing iambic pentameter! Sorry.)

What, will you not suffer me? Nay, now I see
She is your treasure, she must have a husband;
I must dance bare-foot on her wedding day
And for your love to her lead apes in hell.
Talk not to me: I will go sit and weep
Till I can find occasion of revenge.

Later, when the suitors arrive disguised as teachers, Kate brains Hortensio with his own lute, and slaps Petrucchio. The odd thing is, for such a bully as he’s said to be, he never strikes her. He confuses her, surely, but at the expense of his servants, the tailor, her father; he never strikes her; at least in the script I read. Much can be done with the staging, I grant. I vaguely recall having heard that in the first production, he attacked her with his sword, until Elizabeth R. had Shakespeare change that scene.
(Compare in “Henry V” III:6, the hanging of Bardolph. In the Kenneth Brannagh film, Henry weeps at having to order the death of his old drinking buddy. But on the page, his line, “We would have all such offenders so cut off” sounds unmanly cold, and gives a poor impression of him. Or again, in “The Merchant of Venice” Shylock was for many years a comic figure, until some brave soul thought to realize him as tragic, as truly put upon by bigots.)
You’ve put your finger directly on the point, in referring to P. “smirking smugly” in the Fairbanks/Pickford film, as he did in the stage play I referred to in my first. [And as Henry did in the WWII-era Laurence Olivier film of Hank the Cinq! Was that just the style in leading men?] I’m not familiar with it, so I must ask: what motivates K’s violence in the 1929 film?

What motivates her?

I don't know, it's a very long time since I saw the film, and I don't really remember. The bit that has stuck in my mind is the scene where Petrucchio is making his speech about how he's going to tame Kate, and you see her overhearing him. she looks absolutely furious, but then her face changes as she realises that she can gain more by playing Petruchio at his own game than by fighting him. He is absolutely dumbfounded when she starts agreeing with everything he says, but then becomes very self-satisfied when he thinks it's worked. She meanwhile is having fun playing the submissive wife while nodding at the other women behind his back.

How the play was viewed in Elizabethan times I don't know, it would be interesting to find out. If you view it purely as knockabout farce then it's palatable. That seems to have been how the Lunts thought about it anyway, I think I mentioned elsewhere how they were still arguing about a scene Alfred Lunt had cut from a production they'd been in together many years earlier "I could have got a laugh in that scene, Alfred".

When John Fletcher wrote the sequel "the Tamer Tamed" he seems to have taken the view that Katherine led a dog's life with Petrucchio, at any rate that's how the characters in his play talk about Katherine, and they envisage a similar fate befalling Maria, only she is made of sterner stuff than Katherine.

As for Petrucchio not striking Katherine, well, from what I remember he deprives her of food and sleep until she is too exhausted to fight him any more, which seems pretty brutal to me. I personally think that Nicholas Bentley summed it up quite well in his 'Tales from Shakespeare' when he says "The idea that you can tame an hysterical bitch by treating her rough is not one with which many psychologists would agree".

This is so surprising

"The Taming of the Shrew" with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor is one of my favorite films. I see the humor in it, but I also see that Katherine is tamed by Petruchio. She is totally out of control in the beginning of the film, and by the end, she has submitted to her husband. Perhaps that's not how others see it, but it is always how I have seen it. Versions that have Katherine mocking Petruchio have absolutely no appeal for me.

Katherine and Petrucchio

I hate the end of 'Taming of the Shrew' where Katherine is grovelling so abjectly to Petrucchio. I don't like to see women grovelling to men. That's why I enjoy seeing Petrucchio getting his comeuppance in 'The Tamer Tamed'. I don't like seeing women with their spirit crushed.

TT, TS, & Secretary

Louise, thank you for putting so clearly into words what I feel: "I can allow my submissive feelings free rein because I can trust him not to abuse his ability to exert authority over me, he's not going to try and crush me"—

I definitely agree with you about TT versus TS.

I love the M/s relationship I am in, and find it extremely satisfying, but I think it is possible to fall into the error of thinking a DD or D/s relationship is best for everyone, or that all women are secretly submissive and just need to be made to see it, i.e."tamed" like the "shrew." It didn't work with me, subtle strength did.

Great Review

Great review of this mesmerizing movie. I agree you have to set aside your own likes and dislikes and not forget that what the secretary and her boss have works for them. The spanking was pretty hot too!!

Tap

a love story

I own this movie and i love it but it has no link with my submissive nature.
I enjoyed the characters for who they are not because i felt any relation to them.
We all have things in common with our dd life but we are all also very different.
Not to say that these characters where in a dd relationship but i bet everyone of us would be very surprised if we had a crystahl ball to see into each other dd lives.
It was a beautiful love story. i believe the message was love comes in many different forms and there are many different ways to show and feel love.
And please dont call cutting oneself disgusting. It is not healthy but others may call dd disgusting and unhealthy too. We all have our demons.

Secretary—Some firsthand insight

I simply loved this movie and do see it ultimately as a love story. I've been called sick in the head for this, by a friend I knew better than to tell. I purchased the short story almost immediately but found it bore little resemblance to the film. I actually didn't care for it at all—it's clearly not the same story.

Now I just have to share with you critics: some of us are fully experienced in self-mutilation. It's a crime against oneself. It's disgusting, but I feel I can say that because I've gone through young adulthood doing it. Most any psychologist knows that girls who cut themselves were usually sexually abused. If you don't believe me do the research. There is no evidence in "Secretary" that Lee was sexually abused, just very "damaged."

One of the most moving scenes I've ever witnessed was James Spader's character ordering Lee never, ever to hurt herself like that again. I had so many times when I wanted nothing more than a strong loving man who cared about me to take those blades and smashed bottles away and furthermore "take me in hand."

I KNOW this isn't healthy stuff, and I absolutely do not condone any of this. But it's true, and it happens. All I am saying is, someone who wrote the movie script for "Secretary" knew a few things.

Secretary - the script

If you enjoyed the film then you might like to read the screenplay which is available in book version. It contains a very interesting introduction by the author who writes about her own submissive feelings and reaction to being spanked for the first time, and how she feels about submission in general.

The screenplay also contains several scenes that were omitted from the film, mostly with Lee's family and friends, who are more prominent in the screenplay than in the finished film. One of my favourite deleted scenes is where she sees her sister and friends waxing their legs, and you see her looking interested, realising that here is another way of inflicting pain on herself. Then you see her in the chemist buying a stack of boxes of leg-wax.

There's also a good scene where she has got friendly with one of her sister's friends, a committed feminist, and plucks up the courage to tell her about her boss spanking her when she makes typos etc. However, the friend is so shocked by this that Lee pretends it was just a joke.

Reply to Ash

I agree with you, Ash, very much, but I did not actually call cutting disgusting. I did indeed find it off-putting though, because the character is clearly troubled and in a bad state of mind with respect to it. As it happens, I know someone who is into cutting, and in her case it does not seem to be associated with any sort of psychological problem. There are many things people do that are not my cup of tea, but if those things are a source of joy rather than an angst-ridden compulsion, I say more power to those who enjoy them. That is not the case here. The character does the cutting and burning when everything is going wrong for her, when she feels awful. She looks full of anguish, not full of joy, and it seems to be a reaction to her ghastly childhood rather than anything more positive. It can be seen as a physical representation of the psychological pain she is in. Her relationship with Mr Grey releases her from that pain.

Cutting

The character does the cutting and burning when everything is going wrong for her, when she feels awful. She looks full of anguish, not full of joy, and it seems to be a reaction to her ghastly childhood rather than anything more positive. It can be seen as a physical representation of the psychological pain she is in. Her relationship with Mr Grey releases her from that pain.

It seems to me that for people that cut themselves it's way of releasing their interior pain and turmoil to the outside. In other words, they take their emotional pain and make it an exterior pain that can in their minds, be fixed by applying a bandage over it. Putting a bandaid over it may help them think that they are fixing or solving the interior problem, even though it doesnt actually work. For him to take the control from her as he did in the movie it seemed to allow her to let him handle her interior problems. No, I'm not a shrink but that's what I got out of the cutting stuff in the movie.

Transitions

I found this film to require some thought. On first impression, it does seem shallow and a caricature but it does make you think. After some thought, I did start to see the filmmaker's attempt visual display the discontinuity felt by many of us feel. I did feel they never really develop Mr. Grey but that could be another film. Perhaps the same story from the other perspective.

We do see Lee grow as she experiences this different way of life. Mr. Grey not only gives her strength to stop the cutting, her internal control mechanism, he also prompts her to become independent from her parents. She blooms in the relationship and grows frustrated when he arbitrarily stops. In the great feminist tradition of American cinema, it is Lee who determines the relationship by her act of obedience against all efforts to dissuade her. I'll leave it to others on this forum to indicate how realistic this is.

The tragedy of the story comes from two people so connected but unable to admit their needs or desires to the other. The moral comes when we see both find peace through Lee's determined act. It is only then when Mr. Grey accepts that this is what she truly wants rather than submitting out of weakness. This is reaffirmed by the final scene where she by malice of forethought, creates the situation for which she will be disciplined.

Do not fault the filmmaker for trying to find a visual way to display what is inherently internal. It is not easy to demonstrate walking a step behind or the glance for permission. I believe to get the film released, the filmmaker had to start with damaged people but he did sneak in reality at the end, it could be the couple next door. That contented smile on your neighbor's face may be from the knowledge she's to be spanked when he comes home.

"Secretary"'s subversiveness

I'm delighted to read to your review of what is one of my favorite recent movies. I think you're absolutely right that "Secretary" is about redemption (and self-discovery). As someone who is passionate about both the subject matter and about film itself, I just wanted to add my own two cents.

I did want to say something in answer to the reader who thought that "Secretary" was insulting, offensive garbage for portraying the romantic leads as flawed characters in a flawed world. I've read this sort of comment before on other blogs and bulletin boards and I have to say I feel that to say that I feel this viewer is missing the point not only of this movie, but of what movies in general do and how they work. Reading this kind of comment reminds me of one of my favorite screenwriter's observation that "one film that no-one wants to see is 'Village of the Happy Nice People.'" A film that followed a nice, normal gal and a nice, normal guy as they got into a relationship with a "Taken in Hand" dynamic and everything basically worked out just fine might be a wonderful representation of the kind of relationship we want to have and the kind of people we are—but it would make for a dreadfully dull movie, one that few people would choose to see.

Saying that Lee and Mr Grey are terrible misrepresentations of healthy submissive and dominant partners is to me missing the point in the biggest possible way. Movies move —not only in their images, but in the development of their characters and scenarios—and to understand what a movie is about, you have to look at where it moves from and where it moves to.

Lee starts off as a sympathetic but very weak character, chronically uncertain of herself, unable to truly connect with anyone else and unable to express her emotions in any way except through deliberately harming herself. By the end of the film she has gained exceptional emotional strength and self-knowledge and acted in a truly courageous way to first of all claim and then develop a genuinely loving relationship.

Mr Grey develops in a similar way. Although he is apparently the stronger, and certainly the more experienced of the two, he is in many ways just as weak, vulnerable and confused as Lee. He is aware of his dominant nature but does not really understand it (and even fears it) and is unable to use it to form any kind of satisfying emotional relationship. Even though he tries to run from it when it becomes too intense and too intimate for him, his relationship with Lee brings out the best in him, and gives her the strength to bring him back to her.

In the end both characters are healed and empowered by their relationship—and quite specifically by finding a form of dominance and submission (or domestic discipline) that works for both of them. Although both of them have a lot of learning to do in terms of what loving D/s and DD is, their "kinkiness" is something that makes them happier and healthier. Both Lee and Mr Grey have flaws they need to overcome to be able to be with each other in a loving and romantic way, but their dominant/submissive dynamic is entirely associated with their move towards a "happily ever after"—it's not something they need to be "cured" of.

All good romantic comedies take us on an emotional journey that leads to a happy ending, an ending which gives us a sense that both characters have overcome their own flaws to be in a relationship that we know will work. In this sense, however quirky its surface, "Secretary" is as conventional a romantic comedy as one could hope for. What makes it truly subversive to me is that while the film lets us know without doubt that both characters have reached that happy ending, the relationship they have ended up in together is one that is unrepentantly unconventional.

Happy movie about happy people?

Max, I'm not so sure your friend's right about this:

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"one film that no-one wants to see is 'Village of the Happy Nice People.'" A film that followed a nice, normal gal and a nice, normal guy as they got into a relationship with a "Taken in Hand" dynamic and everything basically worked out just fine might be a wonderful representation of the kind of relationship we want to have and the kind of people we are—but it would make for a dreadfully dull movie, one that few people would choose to see.
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What about the movie Clueless? That's a totally upbeat movie about happy people, and it's great. :-)

Re Clueless...

So, five years later as I'm reading through the comments, I just feel the incredible need to point out (since nobody else has) that the movie Clueless is not an upbeat movie about happy people at all (actually I believe Jane Austen's Emma is the basis of the movie). Leaving out the issues of some of the supporting characters, the character of Cher is a very mixed up, unhappy girl, basically putting on a "front" for her peers and going through problems because of it. In the end she is (sort of) able to see through some of her own shallowness (while also realizing that the shallowness of her friends isn't necessarily all bad) and going for the guy who originally would seem too dorky for her (like, totally).
Irrelevant to the topic, of course, but I just had to go there...
Loved Secretary, which is why I was reading all the comments in the first place.

Re Clueless and Question!

I'm so glad you did point that out about Clueless! hehehehe

Question for all
in some ways Secretary might be seen as challenging dominant representations of female sexuality in popular culture. do you agree?

I loved Secretary because it ...

I loved Secretary because it was to me, at core, a love story; a romance if you will. It showed us the rocky, sometimes joyous journey that two people traveled on the way to feeling completed by another.
It wasn't a spanking movie, per se...spanking movies are just that, movies where spanking is central and present for one reason and one reason only :to excite those of us with the fetish and to get us off. Secretary was a more realistic portrayal, if you will of the journey toward fulfillment. It was sometimes uncomfortable to watch; it was icky at times; it was frustrating and a little scary because the depth of the characters' flaws almost kept them from each other and had they not gotten together the romantic ideal would have been a failure...
I've felt in the inside awful and self-hating at times, like the secretary, like the boss. I've done crazy things and gone to extremes for love, like the secretary. I've felt alien and screwed up at times because of my thing for spanking and wanted to shut and control it out, like the boss.
The movie was an interpretation, a bizarre and poetic representation of the struggle we all feel. And the redemption and the romance came in because two people who were screwed up beyond belief found solace and completion in the company of the other. They fit like long-lost jigsaw pieces. It was the epitome of the myth that there is a "one-true-love" out there for us. I loved its greyness and its dark humor. We have a slightly out-of-the-ordinary turn on folks! and this movie is challenging us to look at things that don't seem familiar and "part-of-us" and to see that they, in fact, ARE, because they correspond to real basic human wants and desires: love, hope, safety, security, acceptance. "Normal" people might look on our relatively banal sexplay and find the same revulsion in what we do as a few of us on here have found in the BDSM elements of the film. It ain't about BDSM, it's about love and struggle and hope for real and lasting love. You want spanking for spanking's sake, rent a Shadowlane vid. There are movies that deal with sexuality for its own sake, and there are movies (any art form really) who use sexuality to bring us back to simple feelings and what it means to be human and scared and flawed and passionate....this one is the latter and for this reason I loved it.
Misterbricks

Answer to Dove

Dove asked Amber:

"Are you saying the eponymous short story didn't depict the secretary as cutting and burning herself? That that was just added by the movie makers"

Dove, no, not at all. The original short story ends with Lee leaving and never going back. There is no redemption, there is no love story at the end. It's ends quite...starkly. And nothing like the movie.

I am a romantic. :-) I like the happy ending in the movie; I admit it.
:-) I'm sappy; sue me.

My comments on Secretary

I watched secretary, and really felt something click in my own understanding of what spanking really does to me.... It made me realize that following a spanking there is a peace in my mind, similar to what Lee felt after cutting herself... and I think that's why when I'm most frustrated I find myself literally "craving" a spanking.... That seems to be the only way to quiet all the thoughts and help me to either rest or focus.... far from discipline or sexual, I think that's the effect I look for in what you all call either a "reassurance" or "maintenance" spanking.... I think that message was either totally missed by the creators of the movie, or understated, but made sense to me because I already know how I'm wired, and am comfortable with who I am and what I need.

Provocative movie; Evocative comments

First off, I'd like to thank the original poster for providing such a thoughtful review of such an interesting film. This is a movie that causes eye brows to raise when you mention it to people who haven't actually *seen* it, but have *heard* all about it. Misconceptions abound and depending on someone's frame of mind they can make all sorts of connections from this movie that will either help them or hinder them when it comes to accepting that being a little *bent* does not mean you're broken.

I first saw the movie back in the fall and started off watching it with my wife Sam, but she got up and walked out during the first spanking scene. She was so put off by the fact that Mr. Grey was exercising his power over Lee in that manner that she couldn't sit and continue the movie. Her attitude was likely influenced by stuff that was happening between us at the time, but it was disappointing nonetheless, because I feel she missed out on a very good movie.

The original poster nailed it with the comment that you get more out of this movie when you stop trying to identify with the characters or to catalogue them for their kinks or quirks. It's a love story, plain and simple and needs to be enjoyed for the peculiarities that allow the relationship to work, not reviled for everything about these people that is *different from normal*.

So I was a little disappointed in Sam's decision, but time has passed and I rented the movie again after learning there was a review on Taken In Hand. I haven't had a chance to sit down and watch the whole thing again yet, but I have it for the entire week and Sam figures she'll give it another try as well. She's had a little more experience with some of the concepts put across in the movie, but once again I want her to simply watch it as a movie the first time through, without trying to identify with Lee or characterize me as Mr. Grey. If she wants to watch it again after that, so much the better.

Many of the comments made here do an excellent job of identifying the aspects of the movie that appealed to them and yes, the fact of the matter is that it is a love story with drama, pathos and some very light hearted moments as well (I loved the *honeymoon*). Thanks to everybody for sharing such interesting thoughts on such an entertaining and provocative movie.

Secretary

I am going to have to watch this movie again. I watched it the first time under advice from my next door neighbor, a single woman who as far as I know is vanilla. After seeing the movie, I asked her what it was about the movie she liked so much(she confided in me she had seen it five times already) and she replied simply: "Because it's so strange. I like strange movies." Okay. That's a lot of useful information. I hope she doesn't mind me thinking there must be some deeper thoughts going on.

I mentioned to her what I liked about the movie the best was the ending because the sexuality the couple was exploring is the way they would have of relating and this was clear in the end. However, and like I said I will need to watch this again to be sure of myself, but it really seems to me the tactic of connection the movie maker makes mixes two themes, one of sado-masochism as a paraphelia or pathology and the other (in the end) of sado-masochism as a sexual orientation or way a couple gains the deepest intimacy.

I think the cutting scene and self mutilation symbolized inner rage in a Freudian description of masochism being hatred directed inward, defended by descriptions of an unhealthy childhood (Freudian). This is a troubling aspect of the film even if it is a 'theatrical representation' because there is simply no relationship between masochism as paraphelia and masochism as a sexual experience in intimacy. It seemed to me the film tried to make a connection between the two, suggesting in the end that this love affair would 'cure' what amounted earlier to be a Freudian pathology. I do not believe this is possible any more than I believe hitting one on the head with a hammer or electric shock will 'cure' any other mental disorder....and pathological masochism as described in her behavior of self mutilation did appear to be a mental or emotional
disorder.

I have read all the reviews here and I do not really see anyone disagreeing with my own impression that her early behavior was essentially unhealthy. I do agree that for many of us taken in hand readers finding someone 'like us' is the only way we are going to find true intimate happiness (the same is true for 'vanillas,' for gays and for whomever),

but the truth is that every sexuality will have a relationship to it that is simply not healthy. Hetero vanillas might be abusive or even rapists. This has no relation to healthy vanilla sexuality and a vanilla sexual love affair will not cure a rapist nor will it cure abuse. I think it is a mistake to identify healthy dominant/submissive love relationships with even the possibility that this dominance and submission is in any way related to the paraphelia of sexual masochism or sexual sadism. It simply is not. I think the film Secretary over emphasized the once supposed connection between what was presumed inner rage as the catalyst and original source of dominant/submissive love making. I think this interpretation of what we do and how we live and love is an error.

Frank

Lee's Transformation

Frank,

I think I see this rather differently. The scene where Mr Grey tells Lee that her hurting herself is something that is "in the past" is one of my favorites in the film and makes perfect sense to me. It's also crucial that it happens before he lays a finger on her as he is showing his best dominant nature to her, showing that he cares about her and that he has the courage to act on that.

My experience of young women who have cut themselves has been that they have been chronically neglected throughout their lives (principally, of course by their parents). Cutting themselves is a way of expressing strong painful emotions that they feel they cannot vocalize or express in any other way. It's also been my experience that no matter how concealed the cutting or other self-hurting activity, because it is a way of making their feelings physical, it is very much a cry for help. I would say that anyone who hurts themselves in this way hopes, however much they would consciously deny it, that someone will notice the cuts or burn-marks, realize that something is seriously wrong and do something about it.

When Mr Grey tells Lee that her self-hurting is over, he is doing just that. It's not that Lee no longer needs to hurt herself because "he will hurt her for her" (at this stage there is no physical relationship between them). The reason that Lee can give up her self-hurting is because this man whom she is attracted to and looks up to is telling her that she has his attention, that she is cared for and that she can begin to place trust in him and share herself with him. Self-hurting, as I understand it from watching friends go through this, is an expression of feeling completely alone; once Lee no longer feels alone, she no longer has to do this to herself.

In terms of Lee's sexually submissive nature, which blossoms under Mr Grey's tutelage, I don't think the film gives us a clear-cut answer as to whether this is something influenced by her upbringing, or simply innate to her—and to be honest, I don't think life offers clear-cut answers to this question either. Whatever the case, Lee has obviously needed a loving, strong and protective male figure all her life and that is what she gets in the end. As I understand her character, much of Lee's rage came from feeling abject loneliness and the pain of neglect, as those feelings are replaced by connection and love, her submissive nature transforms from a source of weakness and bitterness to one of joy and strength. To me, this is a very believable and moving transformation.

Is it the movie or me? ...me.

I agree that if I could separate myself from the characters, and appreciate them for who they are with their idiosyncracies, the movie was easier to watch.
My disappointment in the movie had more to do with my expectations in hoping for a movie that had characters I could relate to more. The writer/Director revealed the characters they wanted. For the mainstream audience, I think there would be more broad appeal with characters that looked for a release through BDSM, or intimacy through submission/dominance in otherwise "normal" non-self-degrading lives.

Rocket

Secretary

I liked it. I think they could have created more sympathy for Mr. Grey. I can imagine what he was going through, but I think he came across as a real jerk. Especially abandoning her after making her give up cutting herself. His inner conflict could have been made more obvious.

My basic reaction was that for people who know something about alternative sexuality, this is a nice love story, but people who don't will probably think the whole thing is sick. I loved how strong Lee was at the end, a submissive with the strength of character to stand for their happiness, while the dominant was being a total wimp—afraid to accept himself and her.

Melanie

The Romance ...

Indeed, it isn't a spanking movie—porn for the 'spanko'. It was, however, one person's filmic foray into the psychographics of people whose romantic encounters include, per their hardwiring, elements of dominance and submission.


One of my favorite parts of the movie is the aftermath of the spanking, when their pinky fingers hook for a moment. In its simplicity, it acknowledges that spanking, D/S, is born of affection, love, and has the same intimations that a “normal” or vanilla relationship.


I've definitely used the film as bait, leaving it in plain sight at my home, mentioning it as part of my top ten list, discussing it conversation. It's an interesting place to start, and makes for an easier segue than a high-brow intellectual conversation of the benefits and drawbacks of a traditional relationship where a man is in control ... subjugation v submission, but you're so strong in “real life”, et al.


I'd like to add one last note: I've greatly enjoyed this website and am very glad to have found it.

Don't forget the element of play.

Did anyone notice the expression of delerious happiness on Lee's face when Mr. Grey put the saddle on her and the carrot in her mouth?

Remember in her narrative (via newspaper article) how she said she'd found someone with whom she could play with among other things.

Also, she totally understood his pain of trying to integrate his natural dominance into his conventional societal programming.

For me those two things were extraordinarily beautiful. I have a man in my life who once told me "most women would not except me "the way I am"...i.e. dominant. He now knows that I will and with total joy.

Diane

don't forget the element of play

Oh yes, I loved that bit too, the expression of relish on her face as he puts the carrot in her mouth, it's great. It's so obvious she is having tremendous fun in that relationship. And I love the bit where he doesn't notice the error she's deliberately left in the letter and she gets so annoyed when he doesn't respond, that is so true to life, how quickly the submissive veneer slips away if you don't get what you want! And then when he gives up doing the kinky stuff altogether and starts treating her "just like a regular old secretary" as she remarks in disgust, emptying all her tipp-ex into the river. Oh, I love it. And that sublime moment at the end of the film where she drops the dead cockroach on the bed, the film is sheer bliss!

Play on

And that sublime moment at the end of the film where she drops the dead cockroach on the bed, the film is sheer bliss!

I agree! And I have thoroughly enjoyed your post here and those in other threads, Louise. I laughed out loud at many of your insightful comment, esp. the 'slipping away of submissive veneer.' Some of your barbs, like this one, hit close to home for me and that really makes me smile.

I learned something too about literature and it's always a good day when I can say that.

I thought Mr. Grey 's obsessive behaviour and Lee's self-multilation were good metaphors for the consequence of self-denial or an unfulfilled life.

Maddy

Play On

Thanks very much for your kind comment about my comments, I'm glad you like them. I felt that I had perhaps been a bit too ferociously critical in some of them, so I'm relived someone likes them! The thing I love about that bit in Secretary where she looks so sulky becuase Mr Grey doesn't respond to her overtures is that I have felt that expression on my own face several times, when I've been just longing for my husband to spank me and he hasn't responded to my provocation because he's just too busy, absorbed in something else, because real life gets in the way. You just can't do it ALL the time, which is why I have found some of the articles on this site a bit disconcerting, there seem to be people who CAN do it all the time, at least they write as if they can, and I find myself reading them with a mixture of envy and bafflement. I mean sub/dom relationships are great fun, but in much of life, my life anyway, it just isn't relevent. I mean, being submissive isn't what's on your mind when you're trying to get the children ready for school and you can't find their shoes and the cat's just thrown up on the carpet.

Am I the only one?

I haven't seen the film all the way through even though we own it on DVD. I'm not sure I could—I gave up the first time we sat down to watch it beause it frustrated and annoyed me. I liked the idea behind what I saw of it, but... the motivations for the two main characters to behave as they were was too obvious and too clumsily handled, the pace never picked up, and I got the impression the director was trying to be David Lynch and failing dismally.

--

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so" Hamlet, somewhere.

Secretary

I think most of us wanted Secretary to be about ourselves in some way. In many ways it was, but it was subtle. Lee's mutilation was an outward manifestation of helplessness, gaining control, containing her emotions, etc. Most of us want to be taken in hand for similar reasons. We want our partners to take charge when things are out of control during disputes or when we have lost control in our own physical or emotional lives. Mr. Grey clearly, dominantly, and caringly addressed the mutilation and told her to stop. She was so liberated by this that she threw all her cutting devices away. There were boundaries and control from someone else who cared. He gave her so much in this way. After being in a very out of control family, he was just what she needed...someone who dominated with care.
When it became clear he was uncomfortable with his way of dominating, she was strong enough because of his dominance to help him see it through. She helped him feel okay about what seemed out of the norm. I loved the scene where he brings her upstairs to the bath, washes her hair,etc. In the end, it is a beautiful acceptance of who they are as themselves and together. Two puzzle pieces that fit. It was a great message.
I know I have had my own challenge in accepting my need to be submissive and to want to be spanked. How weird does that sound? My husband is much more rational, focused, self disciplined and he has taken me in hand and given me the guidance I want. He loves me for who I am, too. My self acceptance is growing and this movie was helpful.

Secretary

I had a very positive reaction to the film. While noticing that Lee was a cutter, I didn't infer that this was a negative portrayal of kinky people (using that term broadly and non-derogatorily of course), but rather waited to see what would happen. This was perhaps especially easy since I had been a self-pincher for a while in adolescence, although I managed to overcome this well before fully coming to terms with my kinkiness. And I notice at least one of your other members describes having been a cutter too.

Anyway, like you I saw that the film shows the growth they achieve by learning to accept and respect what they are. I found it very validating and, as a predominantly submissive male, could identify strongly with Lee Holloway. I could just sigh during the first spanking scene.

I enjoyed it

I watched it from the second view in the article. Pitfalls—yes they did not talk about having this relationship that bothered me but hey this was a movie. They ultimatly saved each other. And Mr. Grey cared for her he demanded that she stopped cutting and there was a beautiful scene where he loved her body and bathed her scars. It was rapture of the souls. Same with the story of O if you take about the hollywood what is left is a finding of a soul.

One of My Favorites

While I think when one looks at any one else's relationships (where they are now and/or how they got there) there will always be things we like and things we cannot relate to, understand, and do not like...

That is why I loved the movie so much though; its underlying theme is that they really can do it 24/7...that they don't have to be ashamed of who they are...

OOO...I also loved when she tried spanking herself, it is so not the same...

Short and sweet.

I hated Secretary. I watched it a few years back, before I'd fully admitted (even to myself) what I was wanting in a relationship. My true desires were lurking undercover, as many others have described. Anyhow, I was disgusted with the movie. Secretary is not at all what I have in mind when I think of loving submission and discipline in a relationship.

~HollyCakes

Secretary

I loved it. It isn't what I'm looking for in a relationship either, I thought most of the things Mr Gray made her do were terribly silly, but she obviously loved it, and that was what I liked best about the film, that she was getting what she wanted. There are some bits in the film that I thought were absolutely wonderful.

The spanking scene of course, that goes without saying.

The bit where he's put the carrot in her mouth and is putting a saddle on her and you see the expression of utter relish on her face, because she is enjoying it all so much.

The bit where she is emptying her typ-ex into the river while her voice says in disgust "he started treating me just like a regular old secretary again".

The bit where she tries whacking herself with a hairbrush and you see the expression of disappointment on her face as she realises it isn't the same thing AT ALL (I know I tried that when I was young and felt exactly the same way)

The bit where she drops the dead cockroach on the bed, and you can imagine what he's going to do when he comes home and finds it.

My husband was very impressed with the spanking scene when he first saw the film some time before I did "He doesn't half give her a walloping" was how he put it to me. His favourite bit though is the last shot of the film, where she gives a sort of sideways glance directly into the camera, he thinks that's a really brilliant shot.

Altogether what I liked about the film was that it was about two people fulfiling their desires and being happy, which I think is what any relationship should be about.

Louise

Indeed! This film gave me the spank I needed!

I had some idea of what I wanted in a relationship but when I saw this film it all came together and made sense for me.

I think it was the day after that I found this site and read the stories that I was longing to hear for what seems like all my life now. There are many issues which surround each of our relationships and, I guess, that boils down to the individual but the premise is the same. The Secretary was an enlightment and groundbreaking in my world.

The carrot bit is too whacky for me but all the discipline that is sent out is perfect for the crime. Don't we all crave the fairness but firmness that is depicted here? I could watch it all day long but my protector wouldn't let me! LOL. Oh well there are some bugs to bear in a Taken In Hand relationship.

Thanks for this film and especially thanks for this wonderful site.

Rhythm Stick

The Secretary

Having seen this movie no less than 30 times, I can easy see how it would confuse not only those of us into D/S, but also the vanilla segment of the population. The only part I really connect with is the ending when she is tied to the tree and he is making love to her. From there, the dropping of the bug on the bed and the devilish smile says it all...She's found herself and what she enjoys. The last five minutes of this movie is the best part!

Additionally, when she is in full bloom with the neck harness, cuffs and spreader bar (as shown in the opening scenes of the movie) she is fantastically well adjusted, in full stride and having some real fun. It is his lack of confidence in what he is feeling that screws it all up for her.

The ending bath scene sums it all up. He wants to be dominent. She wants to be submissive. He is worshipping her for her true self during the bathing scene. There is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

jamie

Using BDSM movies to entice a reluctant partner

Although the movie Secretary comes very close to summing up a happy D/S union at the end, for the most part movies involving BDSM do more to hurt the cause than help it. Movie producers seem bent on pidgeon holing D/S relationships as wierd, perverted, disgusting and far from the main stream. In the Realm of Senses, a very disturbed young woman takes the life of her lover through auto-eroticism and cuts off his penis. In Venus in Furs the movie concentrates on how much his girl friend dislikes D/S and has him begging like an animal. The Night Porter brings out the least attractive traits of human emotion by showing her tormentor's cut off head in a box and uses the Jewish holocaust as the background for the movies D/S relationship. (Very poor taste...even if the movie was written by a woman). Preaching to the perverted has a politician embroiled in proving the world how disgusting D/S really is. The list goes on and on. The Story of O, Belle Du Jour and most all D/S films tend to make the experience appear depraved and unattractive. I guess the reason I like The Secretary so much is that it truly does have a happy and well adjusted ending. Very rare in the world of D/S movies. The point I am trying to make is...if you are planning on using a mainstream movie to entice or instruct your partner in the mechanics and beauty of D/S, I would be very cautious. The exercise may backfire and bring out his or hers already established preconceptions of D/S and make matters worse. Tread very carefully here.

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