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A 2002 [[{{dramedy}} comedy-drama]] film written and directed by Steven Shainberg, ''Secretary'' is either a well-loved examination of an unusual romance, or a stunningly bad portrayal of an unusual romance. Or [[TakeAThirdOption just downright disturbing.]]

It is a story about Lee (Creator/MaggieGyllenhaal), an emotionally unstable woman who starts the film having been released from a psychiatric hospital, where she was put after an incident of self-harm went too far. She finds a job as a typist under E. Edward Grey (Creator/JamesSpader), a demanding lawyer. After some time, the two develop a sadomasochistic relationship, and are forced to deal with the personal and professional consequences.

Based on a [[AdaptationExpansion short story]] by Mary Gaitskill, who is known for stories centered on emotionally damaged women and deviant sexuality. Also notable for some unusual choices in direction, particularly with regards to soundtrack; the development of the relationship between the main characters is marked by the length and quality of the silence between them.


* AdaptationExpansion: The original story is only 15 pages long, and the protagonist is not named.
%%* TheAlcoholic: Lee's father.
* AnguishedDeclarationOfLove: [[spoiler:Given by Lee]] near the end of the film.
* AsideGlance: In the last scene, Lee suddenly looks straight into the camera -- and the effect is quite powerful.
* [[SexEqualsLove BDSM Equals Love]]: The film doesn't really show Lee and Grey share anything other than their fetishes... unless you count the mutual inability to open up emotionally, a very deep shyness that they handle in different ways. A longing to really understand each other, without really daring to let it go anywhere.
--> '''Lee''': I took a shortcut through Hawkins Park, and it was as if I'd never taken a walk by myself before. And 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. At the same time, I was feeling something was growing in Mr. Grey. An intimate tendril creeping from one of his darker areas, nursed on the feeling that he had discovered something about me. The next day, I didn't even bring my cuticle scissors and my iodine. But I did make another typing mistake.
%%* BathtubScene: Two of them.
* BeautifulAllAlong: When Lee's self-image finally becomes positive, we finally see her completely naked, relaxed, and lit with a warm yellow glow -- reflecting how she now feels that she is beautiful.
* BigDamnKiss[=/=]OfficialKiss: Averted, as FirstKiss is not shown on the screen, and all the kisses which ARE shown are somehow non-standard (e.g. the characters AlmostKiss, one of them doesn't close their eyes etc.)
* BondageIsBad: Edward seems to have this mindset in the beginning, giving him some [[SexIsEvilAndIAmHorny internal conflict]].
%%* CantActPervertedTowardALoveInterest: Edward. CommitmentIssues ensue.
* CasualKink: While most of the film averts this, it does pop up twice. In the middle of the movie, Lee is listening to a tape about coming out as a dominant or submissive, assuring the listener that BDSM unlocks the potential for a wider range of experience. More importantly, [[spoiler:the movie has a happy ending where Lee finally gets rid of her fiancé (whom she never wanted; he was pushed on her and she wasn't assertive enough to say no), comes out as a masochist and finally demands a real relationship with Edward. Some people are pissed at her, but her father stands by her side and asserts that he's proud of her. Edward overcomes his fear and [[PropertyOfLove they live happily ever after]].]]
%%* ChocolateOfRomance: Offered Lee by Edward, twice.
%%* ClosedDoorRapport: Edward and Lee.
* ConvenientlyCommonKink: Inverted. Lee only discovers her fetish during her stint as the secretary, so Grey directly influences her "choice" of kink.
* CoveredWithScars: Lee, thanks to self-harming since she was in seventh grade. It's oddly handled since the first time we're shown the full extent of this is during the BeautifulAllAlong scene mentioned above, but since Lee finally feels herself -- including the scars -- to be beautiful this becomes only a passing (and by that point irrelevant) detail.
* CreepyGood: Edward, who is glowering and intimidating in typical James Spader style but turns out to be a kind and patient lover.
* ADateWithRosiePalms: One of the rare American non-porn films to show a female character masturbating, including TheImmodestOrgasm. (TheGruntingOrgasm finds its place in the movie as well.)
* DisposableFiance: Deconstructed, in a way. Lee agrees to marry Peter even though she doesn't really have a romantic connection with him, and doesn't enjoy the sex. The only reason she agrees to marry him is because she can't find a normal relationship [[spoiler: after Edward fires her]], and when she breaks it off she does it in a pretty insensitive way, not giving him a clear reason and not acting like she doesn't want to marry him until she delivers it as bluntly as possible.
* DreamSequence: Lee's [[ADateWithRosiePalms fantasy]].
* EarnYourHappyEnding: Both characters had a hard time earning it.
* ExtremeDoormat: At the beginning of the film, Lee is such a doormat that she can't even hang up on a telemarketer. Becoming a BDSM submissive makes her more assertive, true to life.
* FanDisservice: Maggie Gyllenhall's bare thighs, yay! Except she's mutilating herself with a sharpened ballerina doll and scalding herself with a hot kettle... not so yay.
* FlowerMotifs: Mr. Grey's orchids and the flowers in Lee's daydream.
* GenreBusting: Has elements of BlackComedy, RomCom, LeFilmArtistique, and PornWithPlot (but ItsNotPornItsArt).
* GrewASpine: Lee, thanks to her non-standard relationship with Mr. Grey.
* HopeIsScary: It is strongly suggested that Lee would prefer not to leave the mental institution.
* IdealizedSex: Averted ''except'' for the ''basic premise''. Being one of the very few romantic comedies about BDSM, it is also one of very few romantic comedies that starts with the protagonist getting out of a mental hospital (and she didn't end up there out of some wacky misunderstanding).
* InMediasRes
* InternalizedCategorism: At first, Edward believes that bondage is bad. It makes him very unfair to himself and his submissive, who he seems to [[SexIsEvilAndIAmHorny blame for tempting him]]. [[spoiler:Lee eventually manages to snap him out of it]].
%%* InterplayOfSexAndViolence
* IntertwinedFingers: After the well-known spanking scene. Very brief and subtle.
* IntimatePsychotherapy: Her relationship with Edward cures Lee's psychological problems; it can be argued that it also helped Edward.
%%* IUhYouToo: [[spoiler: Edward near the end of the movie]].
* KinkySpanking: Lee Holloway's boss, Mr. Grey, was originally spanking Lee for typos.
* LoveLetter: Subverted: Edward's short letter is never sent, and Lee's message is a very unusual one, as it includes [[{{Squick}} a living worm]].
%%* MasterofTheMixedMessage: Edward.
%%* MiddleOfNowhereStreet: Mr. Grey's office.
%%* MoodWhiplash
%%* MyOwnPrivateIDo
%%* NoSparks: The reason Lee left Peter.
%%* NotGoodWithPeople: Edward.
* OfficeRomance: [[SleepingWithTheBoss Spanking With The Boss]].
* OneHourWorkWeek: Played realistically. Between the boss' near-crippling [[SuperOCD mental issues,]] UnresolvedSexualTension and some very involved sex play, not much gets done at E. Edward Grey's office. However, it's never pretended that he's a successful or busy lawyer.
* PetTheDog: Mr. Grey's releasing the mice from the trap.
* PottyFailure: Lee experiences one when [[spoiler:Edward orders her to sit in his chair without moving her hands or feet until he returns, to prove her loyalty/submission. An order which she actually follows for days on end (Maybe that's also one of the reasons why the first thing Edward does after returning is bathing her).]]
* PropertyOfLove: The kind of relationship Lee wants, [[HappilyEverAfter and gets in the end]]. The film is a mixture between drama and Romantic Comedy, revolving around the BDSM version of this trope. The main storyline is about the main character wanting to be truly owned by her boss.
%%* RaceForYourLove: [[spoiler:Lee, near the end]].
* RevisedEnding: The original story ended [[spoiler:with the protagonist quitting, feeling disgusted, and then being called by a reporter digging for dirt after "the lawyer" announced he was running for mayor]]. The movie ends [[spoiler:on a much happier note.]]
** Probably because in the story BDSM is played as [[BondageIsBad a sexual deviancy and something "forbidden"]] while in the movie BDSM is shown as just another type of sexuality and as a normal and healthy expression for those with BDSM tendencies. The movie shows the protagonist becoming empowered and happy when finding someone to share her desires with and love. The story, [[ForegoneConclusion well...]]
%%* RomanticRunnerUp
%%* RunawayFiance
%%* SafeSaneAndConsensual
* SafeWord: Lee uses it after [[spoiler:Edward fires her]].
* SecretTestOfCharacter: Edward's behaviour towards Lee near the beginning of the movie can be interpreted as this.
%%* SexySecretary: Lee.
* ShooTheDog: Edward's decision to [[spoiler:fire Lee]] may have been motivated by his intention not to hurt her in the future.
%%* ShrinkingViolet: Lee.
* SoundtrackDissonance: Purposeful, according to WordOfGod. To cite just one example, an alternative-rock rendition of "I Will Survive" plays when [[spoiler:Peter and Lee have sex]].
%%* StepfordSmiler: Lee's mother.
* TheStoic: Edward, although really it's just a mask concealing his emotions.
* {{Sugar and Ice Personality}}: Edward's true nature.
%%* SymbolicMutilation: Lee.
* {{Symbolism}}: Orchids, the worm, the cockroach, a dancing ballerina...
* TestingTheLoveInterest: What Edward does after Lee comes to his office in a wedding dress can be seen as this.
* SubordinateExcuse: It's in the title. Verges on a type of HappinessInSlavery by the end.
* SuperOCD: Edward has a pretty severe case of it, given his demanding attitude towards Lee.
%%* SurrealHumor
* TerribleIntervieweesMontage: When Lee tries dating via personal ads, LookingForLoveInAllTheWrongPlaces.
%%* TroubledButCute: Lee.
* TruthInTelevision: See ExtremeDoormat above. Anecdotally, there is nothing ironic about it at all. Many people who have submissive desires find themselves empowered when they are able to experience those desires with a caring partner. Further, Lee acting as the strong emotional center and her strength being what allows the dominant to embrace his role in their relationship is also quite common. It's called power exchange for a reason.
** It's also much of a more common relationship type than that shown in, for instance, ''Film/FiftyShadesOfGrey'', and this movie is [[ApprovalOfGod far more well-liked by the BDSM community because of it.]]
%%* UncannyAtmosphere: Edward's office is filled with it.
* VirginInAWhiteDress: Strongly subverted, as we know that when Lee puts on her wedding dress, she's far from innocent (nonetheless, after she does it, there is indeed [[spoiler:a wedding]].
* YouMakeMeSic: Mr. Grey's displeasure with Lee's spelling errors and typos are an entry into kinky sex.