The Devil Says

See It

Brilliant, thoughtful, beautiful, and chock full of spankings, Secretary is the BDSM (Bondage & Discipline, Sadomasochism) film you can take a date to if your sex life has been vanilla. If paddles are already on your bed stand, here, finally, is a movie that is talking to you, and isn't snickering.

Lee (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a lost soul. Brought up by a fawning mother and an alcoholic father, she started cutting herself in junior high school as a way of dealing with her psychological pain. Recently out of an asylum (where she was sent when she accidentally cut too deep), she attempts to start her life over, taking typing classes and applying for a secretarial position. This leads her to Mr. Grey (James Spader), a lawyer with his own problems. He's an anal-retentive dominant who is ashamed of his desires. Both very closed people, they learn to open up together, in many ways. Secretary is a tale of salvation. It's about two people finding out who they are and what they need. And what they need involves spankings.

Now, as I am The Devil, it's  obvious to anyone who knows anything about me that I'm a fan of BDSM.  I'm a fan of any sexual activity that doesn't greatly harm a non-consenting participant.  maggie gyllenhaall spankWith that in mind, you might think Secretary is a porn flick, or at least softcore.  If that's your expectation, you're going to be disappointed. You won't find non-stop flogging. This isn't a film to have on in the background while you and a partner or three play your own games, nor is it the best material for masturbation. That's not saying it isn't sexy. Damn it's sexy. Simply this is a movie to watch. It isn't part of some other entertainment; it is the entertainment.

And entertaining it is. Spader is always worth watching. No one can combine intelligent, mysterious, compelling, and crazy the way he can. Mr. Grey may be his finest work. Grey's a man of many layers. Far from perfect, he hasn't come to grips with who he is, and hasn't worked out how to behave. While most actors would need pages of dialog and over-long close-ups to express that, Spader can do it with a look.

While it's a given that Spader will be excellent, Gyllenhaal may be more of a surprise. She more than holds up her end. This is her film, and she sells it. Broken, though not nearly as broken as her family and society assumes, Lee's shift can be seen in Gyllenhaal's slight smiles and her stance. maggie gyllenhaall nudeIt isn't a subtle performance since what is happening is obvious. It is a perfect performance.

They are supported by a fine cast, but it is hard to think about them. This story of love, lust, and trust is about two people.  Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give to the other performers is that they never distract from the leads.

Secretary is not a movie of gritty realism. It isn't a psycho-sexual examination of two people or a way of life. It is a fairy tale. It is Cinderella, except the girl isn't a meek servant who is rescued by a handsome prince who doesn't need her; this time Cinderella rescues the prince every bit as much as he does her, and then she bends over the royal thrown, pulls up her skirt and drops her panties. (Wouldn't you love the old Brothers Grimm story if that happened?)

It is also a humorous movie, filled with sly winks and wit. It is funny without ever breaking the bounds of its world. It isn't a comedy, but finds the proper balance of lightness to go with its serious message.

The film has a magical look. Mr. Grey's law office is part dungeon, part maze, and part harem. It is a place where impossible things could happen and the rich red walls ooze lust.

maggie gyllenhaall nakedIf you have left your libido at the door (perhaps because you exhausted it with several hours of athletic sex and need to replenish your fluids), then Secretary will give you plenty to think about. It is a forest of metaphors. If you view it as a puzzle, you'll be watching it over and over for days just to find all the pieces. But I recommend waiting till after Lee and Mr. Grey are gone to sate yourself so that you can better feel the movie. Thinking is all fine and good, but let's get our priorities straight.

Secretary is not only one of the best films of 2002, it is one of the best films of the decade, and on The Devil's list of Great Sensual Films. Life is about pleasure, so sit back and watch Lee crawl down the hall with an envelope in her mouth, and smile.

Sins (What does this mean?)

Pride Front and center.  This is a story about two people learning who they are and accepting it.
Sloth Nada.
Avarice Nada.
Gluttony Nada.
Aesthetics Incredible production design, rich colors, and Gyllenhaal's well crafted skin.
Surrogate Cruelty Nada
Thought Plenty to stretch your brain.
Humor Witty situations and dialog.
Lust You get Gyllenhaal naked and Spader bare chested.  Plus, several sex scenes, masturbation, fetish cutting, and the spanking.  But more than that, the entire film is imbued with lust. Desire is in (almost) every scene, every motion, and every expression.


Buy It


Film Info

Director: Steven Shainberg

Producer: Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby, Steven Shainberg

Writers: Erin Cressida Wilson, Steven Shainberg, Mary Gaitskill (short story)

Cast: James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies, Lesley Ann Warren, Stephen McHattie

Runtime: 104 min