Classics month – Secretary: love, pain and a fairytale ending

Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader first depicted a happy D/s couple in mainstream media with their 2002 movie Secretary. This film is in the top 3 of every BDSM movie list I have ever seen and rightfully so. It is sexy, awkward (cringeworthy at times) and cute. So if you are only going to watch one BDSM romance, make it this one!

The heroes of Secretary

Lee grew up in a disfunctional family and struggles to deal with her emotions. We are introduced to her when we see her being released from a mental institution so she can attend her sister’s wedding. When her alcoholic father gets drunk at this wedding, we find out what she was admitted for in the first place: whenever Lee feels incapable of processing her emotions, she harms herself. Despite this slightly problematic pathologization of the first BDSM-protagonist in mainstream movie theaters, Lee is an extremely likeable character. It is quite impossible not to root for her when she wants to get her life together and goes out to find her first job. Luckily, this job entails working as a secretary at Mister Grey’s law firm. (Making James Spader the original Mister Grey, no matter what everyone says.)

As she does not have much experience, and is kind of a nervous wreck, Lee makes a lot of mistakes. Mister Grey is a perfectionist and a control freak whose marriage failed because of his dominant desires. And these desires keep building with every mistake made by Lee. The tension between them grows, and at some point Mister Grey starts spanking Lee for her typing errors. He will tell her to bend over his desk with her face right above the faulty page and to read it to him while he spanks her. Lee, of course, decides to make more errors and things kind of spiral from there.

Okay, if you do no want spoilers, stop reading now and watch the movie.

Lee is punished for her typing error in Secretary

The story

Ah, good, you’re still here.

So, the main obstacle in this movie is that Mister Grey is ashamed of his desires. The more they feel comfortable in their relationship together, the more terrified he gets. Until he ends things with her and Lee loses both her partner and her job. However, now that she knows that she enjoys BDSM (though they never use this term in the movie), she goes out to find herself another Dom. Through ads she finds a few sadists, though their desires do not match her own. Meanwhile, she is dating “nice guy” Peter and pushed into a vanilla marriage by his parents. When fitting the weddingdress, she decides that it is Mister Grey she wants after all. And this results in one of the most beautiful and famous scenes from this movie: the wedding dress vigil.

Wedding dress scene in Secretary

Still in her wedding dress, Lee runs to Mister Grey’s law office and tries to convince him that she loves both him and his particular kinks. However, he does not believe her. Exasperated, she falls down in his chair and he tells her to put her hands on the desk and to not move her feet until he comes back. Then, he leaves the building, leaving her by herself. He phones everyone he can think off and sends a parade of people to convince her not to do this. First, of course, her ex-fianc√©. Then, feminists, priests, her parents… Hours turn into days. Media outlets start covering the story, calling it a hunger strike. People are camping out in front of the office and turning it into a party.

A Kinky-ever-after

When Lee looks like she is about to collapse, her endurance finally convinces Mister Grey that she really wants this. He goes into his office, feeds her a shake and carries her home. He undresses her (can you imagine the state of her dress?), bathes her and they share personal stories. And they get their happily ever after! They do not turn out to be serial killers. He is not imprisoned for abuse. She does not go back to the mental institution (oh, yes, he helped her resolve her self-injury issues of course). Instead, they have a private wedding in the woods, find a house in the suburbs and live happily ever after.

Both Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spades deliver stellar performances in Secretary. They have an incredible dynamic, the story is cute, the characters awkward and sweet and likeable… Really, what’s not to love about this movie? So really, go and watch it.

Wedding in Secretary

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