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  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
from Film Forum, 09/26/02

Director Steven Shainberg's Secretary, the story of a secretary who finds happiness by developing a sadomasochistic sexual affair with her boss, is drawing harsh criticism from religious media critics.

Gerri Pare (Catholic News) says, "Shainberg presents a positive portrait of sadomasochism as wonderfully freeing and fulfilling even as Lee embraces every degradation, only wanting more. The one-note focus on aberrant sexuality becomes as repellant as the suggestion that Lee is a heroine for insisting on reveling in such sadomasochism. Sadly, there is little true insight in this film which prefers to simply attack the values of more traditional viewers and tack on a smugly happy ending."

Such criticism was not limited to the religious media. David Denby (The New Yorker) says, "The meaning of Secretary is that pain is liberation. This is not a comic idea but a pornographic idea, mixed with defiant anti-feminism: 'If that's what makes you happy, you go, girl.'"

Mary Ann Johanson (Flick Filosopher) is similarly disgusted: "There is nothing beautiful or wonderful about needing to be beaten to feel alive, or worse, wanted, and there is nothing innocent or funny about a man who needs to beat a woman to get aroused. Plenty of women are willing to be treated like dirt by the men who profess to love them for the cycle of violence to be perpetuated. It's really fairly shocking, however, to see a nonpornographic movie feed that cycle."