I think of self-injury as being, in a lot of ways, about control. And then he tells her stop. Hello replacing one kind of control with another. Only this time it’s not about her regaining control over some small aspect of her life but rather about her relinquishing control (of her whole life -- hello four peas at dinner; that bit actually reminded me of Ann Rice’s Sleeping Beauty books, the idea of the dom/sub relationship being total and including all aspects of life) to someone else. This is made particularly clear when her father checks himself into the hospital and she goes to Mr. Grey and we know what she wants, just as much as we know what she would have done at that moment if it hadn’t been for Mr. Grey. And then when she is spanking herself in the bathroom. Hello replacing one kind of self-injury for another.
She’s a deeply submissive person and he totally abuses his position of authority over her. Yes, office spanking is the stuff of hot fantasies, sure, but that scene a deeply inappropriate and disturbing thing in terms of “real life.” Not to mention the fact that he’s a deeply disturbing and fucked-up control freak to begin with. Of course i realize that is in large part because he is convinced that his desires are perverted and is trying to purge his system.
Yes, it does end happy and healthy, which i appreciate, but the hunger strike is way fucked up and although the director and the two leads all said positive things and clearly weren’t intending to make an “ew, S&M” movie, i would still never recommend the movie to anyone.
Director Steven Shainberg:
“This is a story about discovering something true, in a world that often feels false.”
“Really, it’s about a girl journeying from darkness into light.”
Shainberg says that “Everything outside is plastic-covered and fake.” and that they could have made Mr. Grey’s office dark, the idea that she’s going into a dark scary place to do dark scary things, but they consciously chose not to do that, to rather make the office suffused with natural light, wood, growing things. I hadn’t really thought about the nature theme of the office, but it makes sense given the earth theme of the ending speech.
"The Secretary is the only general distribution movie that treats BDSM in an honest and open and healthy way." -carpdeus
The director talked about how in the 1980s there were movies like My Beautiful Laundrette that portrayed gay male relationships as having just as much validity as heterosexual relationships, and that he saw Secretary as doing a similar thing for S&M relationships, showing that something that might seem odd or frightening is just fine. He said he would tell people the idea of the story and they would say, “But in the end she gets over this problem, right?” and he would say “But it’s not a problem.”
Knowing that the people doing the movie very much intended for it to not portray S&M as a scary fucked-up thing makes me extra sad about how problematic i think the movie ultimately is.