Director: Steven Shainberg
Writers: Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay), Mary Gaitskill (short story)
Stars: James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jeremy Davies
Plot: Lee Holloway is a smart, quirky woman in her twenties who returns to her hometown in Florida after a brief stay in a mental hospital. In search of relief from herself and her oppressive childhood environment, she starts to date a nerdy friend from high school and takes a job as a secretary in a local law firm, soon developing an obsessive crush on her older boss, Mr. Grey. Through their increasingly bizarre relationship, Lee follows her deepest longings to the heights of masochism and finally to a place of self-affirmation.
Spank me harder
“In one way or another I've always suffered. I didn't know why exactly. But I do know that I'm not so scared of suffering now. I feel more than I've ever felt and I've found someone to feel with. To play with. To love in a way that feels right for me. I hope he knows that I can see that he suffers too. And that I want to love him.“
There are not many movies I saw that portray love accurately. In fact, the feeling itself is so grand, that only movies which show some aspects of it exist and the fact they managed to capture them is already a great achievement – there is longing (“Brokeback Mountain”), desire (“Mulholland Drive”), sweetness (“Amelie”), purity of the feeling (”The Village”) and fragility of it (“Closer”). And now “Secretary” shows beautifully another aspect of love, perhaps the most crucial one – the sense that the one you love knows what you are going through and understands you completely.
“Is it that sometimes the pain inside has to come to the surface, and when you see evidence of the pain inside you finally know you're really here? Then, when you watch the wound heal, it's comforting... isn't it? “
Lee is a masochist. She cuts herself, burns herself and takes pleasure out of it. She lives her life as outsider, unable to truly connect with anyone – not with her family, not with her boyfriend. Nobody understands her – but on the other hand how can they? She always was different. One day she gets a job as secretary for lawyer, Edward Grey. Soon it turns out that Edward has some kinky tendencies himself and the two begin to bond in a very peculiar, yet profound way. Lee is happy, almost as a child, that she found someone who goes through same thing she does and Edward is very reserved, being scared of his own feelings, having never opened up to someone about them before.
What I love about “Secretary” the most is the lightness with which the movie treats somewhat controversial subject. I myself see nothing wrong in the things two characters do – they have fun in that, they find freedom others around them never will. They pay price for it – they live they life alone, until they find each other. Now, isn't that romantic? In it's heart “Secretary” is a warm, tender love story. Its the characters that make the story shine with unusual light. Are the things they do normal? No. Do they hurt each other? Physically, yes. But emotionally they find blissful release. Edward even convinces Lee never to cut her body again. And then cuts are replaced by bruises. In very strange way, he actually rescues her. Lee loves to be guided and dominated, Edward wants to dominate somebody. It's a match made in heaven. Very bizarre kind of heaven, that is.
Unfortunately, the approach becomes more and more comical as the film progresses and the story gets lost when Lee begins her absurd “hunger strike”. Up until that point things were actually realistic and I could see them happening in real life. But that scene was just too much. The notion was so far fetched it can either mean that the writers got scared and decided to turn the movie into ridiculous comedy or they simply made very bad choices and didn't know how to finish the film. The ending is very good, but that particular story arc, as humorous as it was, took me out of the film and almost ruined it.
Both leads – Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader - deliver very daring performances. They are both superbly cast and have wonderful chemistry together. Gyllenhaal captures the sense of being lost and playfulness of her character, whilst Spader portraits Edward's fear of opening himself to Lee and sense of shame brilliantly. The film is unconventional but it's fascinating to watch. Steven Shainberg, the director of the film, also made another beautifully erotic movie - “Fur”. Both of those films are some of the best ones and most erotically charged movies I've seen in years and I hope there is more to come.
“Each cut, each scar, each burn, a different mood or time. I told him what the first one was, told him where the second one came from. I remembered them all. And for the first time in my life I felt beautiful. Finally part of the earth. I touched the soil and he loved me back.”