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Now 20 years old, this cult classic about the transgressive relationship between a secretary and her boss remains an outlier in US cinema, writes Sophie Monks Kaufman.

Screen still of Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) crawling on the floor holding the envelope of a letter in her mouth
When it comes to the disconcerting nature of its central romance, with the BDSM relationship taking place within a professional, workplace framework, Young takes a nuanced and sophisticated approach to the film. She appreciates it for what a formative movie it was – “for many of us, it was the first time in which we saw a masochist/sadist or submissive/dominant portrayed in a mainstream Hollywood film” – while understanding it as problematic. “I do not in any way think it is the model of a healthy sexual relationship or [a good example] of how to go about a kink scene or how to initiate a kink relationship.” The crucial absence is a proper language of consent established between the two of them. “Kink and BDSM rely on [this]. That communication from all participating individuals of expectations, desires, safe words, what and how you would like to explore different aspects of BDSM, etc, create the container for a BDSM relationship, a kink scene, a safe container for surrender. This container was never created within Secretary. Instead we witness two kinky folks fumbling toward connection, leaning into moments of eroticism that are never really communicated about.”

https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20220721-secretary-why-the-kinky-bdsm-romance-was-a-film-landmark