Probably one of the best BDSM movies is Secretary. It stars actors Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader as the characters Lee Holloway and E. Edward Grey. There is so much I love about this movie: the quotes, the horse scene, and the deeper meaning of pain explained. Here is my review and why it’s one of the best BDSM films out there (and also where to watch it right now).
Here’s a little synopsis first: Secretary is a 2002 Indie film that explores the relationship between a dominant lawyer and his submissive secretary.
1. The movie “Secretary” explores the issue of self harm with realistic characters
After I had seen the trailer for the movie I just assumed it was about a kinky boss. I didn’t know anything about Lee being a cutter. As a person who has been involved with self-harm also, it was very hard to watch the cutting scenes. I got a little angry at first, thinking the movie was just stereotyping submissives.
But then I started to think, “Maybe I’m not the only one, maybe there is a correlation.” If you do practice self harm, or have in the past, I would love to hear about it in the comments. A big part of the film’s story revolves around Lee’s cutting, so I loved that it talked openly about such a taboo topic.
The only part that was a little disappointing was when Edward tells her, “You will never, ever cut yourself again. Do you understand? Have I made that perfectly clear. You’re over that now. It’s in the past.”
I thought it was a good response for a Dominant to say, but of course she never ends up cutting herself after he says it. I thought that was a little unrealistic.
2. It shows BDSM has a deeper meaning than just whips and chains
Secretary isn’t a mainstream erotic movie like 50 Shades of Grey. I kept wondering why it was given an “R” rating until the very end when there was one sex scene. Secretary explores what Dominance and submission can look like in real life, and how pain can be so fulfilling.
It also deals with obsessive compulsive disorders and the need for control. Edward tells her how much to eat, and gives her tasks to do. One I really liked was when he told Lee to go for a walk. She obeyed and during her walk she said to herself:
“When I thought about it, I realized I probably never had taken a walk alone. But because he had given me the permission to do this, because he insisted on it. I felt held by him as I walked alone. I felt he was with me.”
To me this really embodies the purpose of rituals and how meaningful they can be.
One of my favorite quotes from the movie is when Lee is sitting at her boss’s desk, with her forearms on the table and she refuses to move. Her ex-fiance asks her if she’s doing something sexual. She replies angrily, “Does this look sexual to you?” It’s a myth that BDSM is only sexual and that part really illustrated that it’s not.
3. BDSM is never the problem that needs to be fixed or explained
Secretary deals with kink like it’s completely natural, even in the scene where Edward treats Lee like a horse. In an interview, director Steven Shainberg said he wanted to show that BDSM relationships can be normal. He didn’t want to do a story where Lee overcomes her cutting and learns she doesn’t need pain anymore.
Lee says to herself at the end of the movie: “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.” And Edward learns that his OCD behavior is not something he has to hide from Lee.
The director also said that they could’ve dealt with the S&M material in a dark way, but they wanted the total opposite: they wanted to show that the nature of the relationship freed the characters to be their natural selves. And in the end that’s what happens. Lee and Edward live happily ever after, living their lifestyle 24/7.
I really hope that if you haven’t seen Secretary yet that you do so soon. There are a lot of great quotes in it, and It may give you a new perspective on what a BDSM relationship can be. You can watch it online through Amazon Prime, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, Vudu, or Hulu.
This was originally a short story written by Mary Gaitskill. If you love the movie you have to, have to read the story. It’s a little different from the movie (Hollywood), and even more breathtaking. It’s called “Secretary,” by Mary Gaitskill.
Dom Sub Living says
Thanks for bringing that up, Corrie! I have read the short story too. It’s very different from the movie (especially how it ends), but I loved seeing more of her perspective.
As a new sub still learning (my Daddy and I are learning together) and as a person still struggling with self harm, I’m very interested in your insight…. I’ll definitely be watching this movie!
I’m still so new to the lifestyle, but I have a thorough understanding of why I’m drawn to it (prior psych major here lol)… and I’m confident that at least for me, there’s definitely a connection between my need to be a sub and my self harm tendencies.
Dom Sub Living says
Thank you for being brave and sharing. Self-harm is definitely a hard battle to overcome, but I do think being a submissive is one way to help with recovery. ((Hugs))
I’ve loved this movie since I first saw it in 2003. I still can’t watch anything with James Spader in it to this day because I can’t accept that he’s older. lol He will forever be Mr. E. Edward Grey. His voice stirs something in me.
My husband and I are just now reawakening to our roles as Dom (Him) and sub (me). I have a lifelong issue with self-injury and was shocked when he told me shortly after we started dating 10 years ago that I wasn’t “allowed” to cut myself anymore. Ever.
I immediately thought of this movie when he said that and was secretly SO excited. Of course I laughed it off sarcastically and thought, “YEAH, because it’s that easy.” He sternly made it clear exactly how serious he was about me not injuring myself and some part of me truly understood, I suppose, because I haven’t done it since.
Dom Sub Living says
Congratulations on your recovery, Marie! ????
It’s one of my favorites too!
Of course the criticism of this movie is that kinksters aren’t emotionally healthy…
Awesome film at so many levels. Very well portraid. This film helped bring a very special sexy lady into my life and we start our 24/7 journey TODAY 14/08/20
Dom Sub Living says
Most of my sex life has been vanilla, but I always wanted to explore BDSM, especially being a Dominatrix. I never acted on it. I saw the movie The Secretary and was completely enthralled by the sub role. I especially loved the part where Edward’s g/f comes to the office. As in the Beauty books by Anne Roquelare, it shows the multitude of facets in the BDSM world.
I am now in a DD/lg relationship and happy. Daddy and I have some kinks to work out (pardon the pun) but I can see this being a lifestyle for me. Absolutely.
I never thought I would find a place where I could become more realistic with this lifestyle, even if I never think that I will find a place where I can live with a dom that holds my hand. It is beautiful to follow your instructions and everything that you share. This movie really made me want this lifestyle even more. But to wake up at 40 with a family makes it hard. I am still happy for having this community and your passion to share. Thank you so much!
So many good things have come to my life, thanks to your website. Introdusing me to this movie is just one of the many things I am grateful. I’ve never actually cried before during any movie, this just touched so close to me. English is not my first language so i hope this is understandable. Thank you.
For me it wasn’t a quote but a scene…in the scene Edward is tending to his orchids…tenderly and methodically watering grooming and nurturing the flowers. The camera pans and shows a Polaroid picture nestled amongst the roots of the flowers. The image was so symbolic of what a Dominant longs for the most when it comes to his submissive. Their growth, their blossoming, truly one of the best parts of the movie to me in my opinion. There were so many truly amazing moments in this film that capture the paradox the stigma the scene the lifestyle. I just wish that she didn’t just get out of a mental institution because it portrayed submissives as crazy.
I’ve known I was a sub for a long time, I’ve been fascinated by BDSM for as long as i can remember but i’ve lived a vanilla life in fear of being rejected. I’ve been with my vanilla partner for 3 years now and i CANNOT hold it in anymore lol. My partner and I recently had a conversation about it all and i’m gonna use this movie to give him a vague idea of what a D/s relationship is like and why I crave it. He’s willing to try so i’m giving as much material for him to work with as possible! Mental Illness and self-harm are a dark part of me thats hard to manage and the fact that I stumbled across this movie now of all times is obviously a sign! This movie, this website, whoever you are….you are doing amazing, Thank You!
Paul prieto says
I enjoy bondage being completely helpless self bondage challenges are welcome
A. Smith says
The movie Secretary touched something inside of me when I saw it many years ago. And yet I’m only now considering and truly learning about this lifestyle and I’m 60 years old. I don’t have a Dom, and am learning so much tonight reading you blog and various articles. Thank you for being thorough and insightful.
Kosh Neranek says
Hey am back,
THANK YOU Alesandra! That movie is a gem. If general public properly understood what it was really about am sure there would be at least an Oscar nomination for story&female actress. What a gem..
Think am going to have to order my wife not to go near it now. We can watch it again together later. 🙂
THANK YOU again
Thank you for this review. I love this movie. One thing I thought was brilliant and foreshadows what is to come is the beginning when Lee is in bondage but moves around the office. Her motions are smooth, fluid, graceful. But when we see her at the actual beginning of the film she is gawky, her movements are jerky. When home she wears dowdy, unattractive clothes. When in the office and later being dominated she wants elegant blouses and attractive skirts. She is free.