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Secretary (2002)

Directed by Steven Shainberg Short Story by Mary Gaitskill Screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson

  By far, my favorite movie with Maggie Gyllenhall and James Spader in it. Those who may keep up with me know how fond I already am for James but I believe this is the first time ever discussing Maggie. Actually, I usually don’t prefer her, if I’m being reel with you. I find her quirky ways amusing but nothing really worth noting. Though, there are usually exceptions when that’s the case. She was fantastic in Sherrybaby, and pretty funny in Away We Go. Both performances given by these actors in this film are truly flawless. A love story that doesn’t apologize for its “antics” and realizes that love can emerge in many forms. To do a silly thing like confine a word to a meaning in which there may not even be a “true” definition to seems absurd either way.

  Lee’s (Gyllenhall) the kind of girl who has trouble finding the right words to say. Any words for that matter; choosing a more painful alternative to speaking about how she feels. Soon released from the mental hospital on the day of her sister’s wedding. Having gotten used to her routine of mindless activities to no drum and asleep by 10, it became her “simple.” Picked up by her mother and attending the wedding, she runs into Peter (Jeremy Davies) who she hadn’t seen since High School. Sharing some awkward dancing and a bit of catch up, we cue to later that night with the parents arguing and it proving too much for Lee. It appears that her father had started drinking again which was a trigger, sending her to her room to locate what could be most compared to a girl’s music box filled with jewelry. Laid out however is something more of what a practitioner of sorts would use or otherwise her “tools.” What had gotten her in the hospital to begin with. The incident itself occurring in the kitchen having slipped and cut too deep, unsure of how she could mess up, having done it for so long. Treated much like a child, her mother remained immature herself and received little trust. Deciding that after attending a typing class she could find a job as a secretary. Which surly would change things around; oh if you only knew. 

  An attempt to throw out her box fails as she instead finds the wanted ads in which she begins circling furiously and practicing for what would be an actual interview. The next day she’s driven to the office where she finds the secretary trying leaving with tears on her face and the office a complete wreck. Walking into Mr. Grey’s (James Spader) office and immediately talked into not taking the job and then given rapid bidding’s to fetch. The appearance of having slight indifference’s in his behavior himself. To further reveal a unpermissive core that refuses to let up. Having no issues with making Lee feel as though she were constantly being tested, in fact almost getting off on how bossy he could be with no one to tell him otherwise. Constantly watching her whether aware or not. We don’t even ever find out too much about Mr. Grey except that he seems to be going through a very bad break-up and is urged by his ex to sign the “papers.” Knowing very well that the relationship Edward and Lee begin with does not end the same; having caught a glimpse in the very beginning. This entire charade of getting to know one another simply an underlining issue at what the movie is truly about, love, coincidentally.

  Everything changes soon after catching Lee in one of her bad days as she goes for her bag, which was carried at all times. Though overlooked and not brought up right away, Lee is brought onto Mr. Grey’s office with the intention of simply holding a conversation. Asking if she had been on a date recently (which he happened to know firsthand) and inquiring as to whether she had lost her virginity. Lee is almost instantly reduced to childlike behavior. His office is an otherwise unknown territory for Lee in that it represents more than meets the eye. It is his utopia, for it seems to be the only place he can reign and not be talked back to or fought in any way. *There’s a moment when his ex storms through the door, demanding to speak with him. As Lee enters his office, noticing that he seems to no longer be where just seen, hearing a faint whisper of “I’m not here.” Clearly the reason behind his failed marriage being that the sort of power craved by Mr. Grey was unable to be obtained. She too, seemed a force to be reckoned with and was in no mood for anything other than what she wanted.* In the midst of speaking with Lee and making her feel at ease he discusses her cutting and offers the only insight as to why she may feel the need to indulge in such behavior. The only one that audible lets her know that he’s aware of how she feels and how it affects her, mind you. “You will never, ever, cute yourself again, do you understand?”

  Which she not only abides by but seems to welcome. Their new routine consisting of complying just as one would in a Lawyer’s office. Yet for every mistake in letters sent out (which she would purposefully engage) was answered with a different “game.” In which the only time we see Lee happy; though never indulging in the act of sex. Quite the switch from before when past emotions were better left to alternative outlets, wouldn’t you say? Her father had left home and checked himself into a hospital. Her mother had been caught locking away any sharp objects and insisted on waiting entire shifts at her work (prior the SM) in fear of who knows what. Her social life consisting of spending time with a man (Peter) who she didn’t even seem to like all that much. Perhaps obtaining the same attribute that made people wonder what could be “off” about them, though otherwise unable to see past what everyone else ignored. It is from this point in the film that they’re relationship forever changes.

  Everyone can and should be loved, in some manner or another. Now, that wasn’t my attempt to, by any means imply that love conquers all; I know damn well “love” can suck a big one at times. But what I loved about this film was that it didn’t try to stay confined to one definition. Nor was it the type of film in which she get’s “better” in the end and overcomes her “illness.” It’s quite a beautiful love story in that it fully acknowledges alternative ways for people to communicate in a romantic way. That may seem unconventional to most. Their partnership relied more on the basis of understanding. Mr. Grey clearly struggles with power. Needing to be in control at all times can be exhausting however if not done how he believed something should. Then his routine seeming completely thrown off. Lee being the submissive type yet finding comfort in that. Doing things in a “normal” fashion probably ran out the door from a young age, the only thing she seemed to know was this feeling could be countered with a particular action. Though she’s able to find someone and fight (and man, does she fight to get him) to create what was their normal. This movie exudes a greatness that needs to be shared. Yes, I truly feel like that. Spader was an excellent choice and captured the role perfectly. Gyllenhall knew exactly how to play the part and didn’t sway in either direction could have, becoming the woman we see her for in the end. Bra-voh.