Secretary: 50 Shades Better Than Other BDSM Movies (with guests Marion and Kim!)

Intro written by Brandon, performed by Maria

BDSM used to be a pretty taboo topic in film—until the godawful Fifty Shades of Grey exploited it as an artless debacle. But back in 2002, serious portrayals were a pretty foreign topic in cinema. Most of the time when it showed up in film, it was the punchline to a raunchy joke. In 2002, Secretary gave us a serious look at what a real BDSM relationship could look like, and it’s surprisingly a lot more sweet and romantic—and empowering—than most other BDSM films would lead you to believe.

The film centers on its two lead characters: Lee Holloway, a young woman prone to self-harm who’s very unsure of herself, and Mr. Gray, a caring man with some domineering tendencies who worries about his relationship with women. Lee gets a job as Mr. Gray’s secretary, and their work relationship turns into something markedly less professional.

Secretary was an amazing film because it easily could have been either a sermonizing condemnation of the subject matter or a gratuitous exploitation of it; but the way the movie respects this relationship elevates this from the drivel that usually surrounds the topic. Great writing and some great performances turn this into an intriguing film on an often misrepresented topic.

To help us talk about this romantic relationship, we brought in two romance experts: Marion and Kim from the podcast More Than a Crush, a podcast about love. We spend some time analyzing how the relationship progresses and talking about how two abnormal people found something that’s normal and healthy for them, even though some others don’t see it that way.

So put on some leather, grab a whip, and get ready to make the next hour your bitch as we delve into this surprisingly complex love story in this episode of Peculiar Picture Show, the podcast that talks about movies, maladies, and mental health!

Special Guests

Kim and Marion from More Than a Crush, a podcast about love

Instagram: @morethanacrushpodcast

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/morethanacrushpodcast/

Show Summary

General: An empowering and refreshing look at BDSM in cinema

Brandon: This movie was my homework in college for a screenwriting course; not your typical 50 Shades of Grey forbidden-fruit thing; sweet and romantic

Maria: Based off a Mary Gaitskill short story, and she thought the film was a little too tame

Kim: Lee’s transformation in the film and how it’s portrayed is amazing; film challenges ideas of love, sexuality, attraction; stylistically it was very early 2000s

Marion: Refreshing, as a love story; maybe not something that could be done in 2020, but that’s not the point; sweet and romantic; sets are so detailed

Like: The movie nails the alternative romance and power dynamics

Brandon: The way the transformation happens in the movie with the characters, including the power dynamic; feminist message

Maria: Main message of the movie; doesn’t make BDSM abnormal; set design; characterization    

Kim: Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance and the entire cast (except punchable Spader); candid role of mental health 

Marion: Beautiful and complicated love story; the worm; empowering; sees it through to the end (where they actually get married)—it’s not just a fling 

Dislike: Fake Florida and James Spader’s punchable face

Brandon: The guy is a lawyer and everything he does is illegal and that’s never addressed    

Maria: Film is set in Florida but obviously filmed in California, but then why the heck even set a film in Florida if you don’t make it a character?; font in title sequence doesn’t match typewriter  ending was rushed, weird, and random, as if everyone knew everything about the main characters’ sex lives, but that’s unrealistic; was unclear on the significance of the other secretaries    

Kim: James Spader and his punchable face; the ending—seems Disney-fied (like the author suggests)

Marion: Not much except Peter’s mom; painful to watch Grey reject Lee

Mental Health: Surprisingly accurate

Brandon: Empowering for people with mental health issues—a positive ending and view of someone who has mental illness 

Maria: Positive views on therapy; some self harm parts, like triggers, felt true, but didn’t connect with the ritual of it; unclear message regarding the connection between cutting/self harm and BDSM  

Kim: Not sure where to begin, because this film says a lot; family systems with poor coping skills, failure to launch, mom over-protective; interesting the use of cutting and how that is interpreted with BDSM; Mr. Grey is stable and provides safety for Lee and is a contrast of what Lee has in her life; realistic  

Marion: The nice thing that it says about mental health is that you can be yourself and people will love you for who you are

Next episode

Boyhood (2014)

Please remember to go listen to More Than a Crush, a podcast about love!

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