16 November 2010

16 Nov - "You know, Lee, there's a long history of this in Catholicism"

Secretary (2002)
dir. Steven Shainberg
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, 2001)
James Spader (2 Days in the Valley, 1996)
Jeremy Davies (It's Kind of a Funny Story, 2010)

So I'm having kind of a hard time figuring this one out. It's about this girl, Lee, who's clearly unstable and vulnerable. She's just gotten out of a mental hospital, her father's a drunk mess and she has no healthy social relationships, except maybe with her high-school boyfriend, Peter, but clearly something is awry there as well.

So she becomes a submissive to her boss, Mr. Grey. And I feel like the way the filmmakers intended it to work out is this thing about how there's all different kinds of love and this dom/sub thing isn't wrong, just different. Here's some quotations I lifted off imdb to that effect:

Lee's father: "You are the child of god's holy gift of life. You come from me. But you are not me. Your soul and your body are your own, and yours to do with as you wish."

Lee: "In one way or another I've always suffered. I didn't know why exactly. But I do know that I'm not so scared of suffering now. 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. I hope he knows that I can see that he suffers too. And that I want to love him."

Mr. Grey: "Is it that sometimes the pain inside has to come to the surface, and when you see evidence of the pain inside you finally know you're really here? Then, when you watch the wound heal, it's comforting... isn't it? "

OK - I get it. It's edgy. She finds fulfillment in punishment and control. Ok. But it's still fucked up. Lee has a family that cares about her, but she probably never really felt cared for. We get three males in this movie. The first is Lee's father, who is an alcoholic, calls her from random parts of town, and generally gets up to shenanigans which always prompts her to cut or burn herself, but then towards the end he seems to get cleaned up a little. The second guy is Peter, played by Jeremy Davies, he's kind of geek but well meaning and you can tell he wants to take care of Lee, but she is unsatisfied with him, especially after he refuses to spank her. The trick is that she liked him a lot before she got involved with Mr. Grey, who does a lot of spanking.

I guess what I'm having trouble with is that, if Lee was a passive and lonely girl, was she being self-actualized by accepting a life with Mr. Grey, as I think the filmmakers are trying to suggest, or was she caving, as I am inclined to believe. Instead of letting Peter love her as an equal, she decided she would always be weak and in need of control. That's the opposite of a self-actualized person, as I've understood it from Nietzsche.

She decided to be happy with her lot, which I guess was caused by family relationships and other psychological factors, rather than confronting whatever it was that made her feel so weak (prolly the dad). But then again, she's not sad at the end of the movie. She's happy with her life and Mr. Grey. The movie ends with a long, self-satisfied stare into the camera. Still, I'm left with the feeling that she's simply run away from her problems. She gave control over her life to someone else so she wouldn't have to deal with them anymore. I dunno...

SO maybe it was a happy ending, but she's no Ubermensche.

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