Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Side By Side: FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (2015) vs. SECRETARY (2002)


Welcome to another installment of SIDE BY SIDE, where we compare two films, be it a remake/reboot with its original, a sequel with its original, or two similar movies. Today, we'll be looking at two very similar films, 2015's FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and 2002's SECRETARY.  Enjoy!


Before, Fifty Shades of Grey hit theaters last year, there was Secretary. This 2002 film explores a sexual relationship between a lawyer and his secretary, as the title suggests. It was an excellent study of the human condition, exploring an unconventional relationship between a sexually dominant man and submissive woman. Both films were titillating to watch, and the actors in both films did a superb job in showing their characters’ flaws. Secretary is based on a short story of the same name in the book Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill.  I've always wondered if Secretary was the inspiration for E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey book series, which originated as Twilight fan fiction.

In Secretary, James Spader plays the eccentric attorney, Mr. E. Edward Grey (yes, I said Grey), who hires the socially awkward and emotionally sensitive Lee Holloway, played by Maggie Gyllenhall (The Dark Knight), as his new secretary. I would classify this movie as a romantic comedy with a twist because of the unconventional relationship between Lee and her boss. Their relationship is compelling because Mr. Grey is always pushing Lee away.  Actually in both films, the men try to push their love interests away because they think they will only hurt them by getting too close.

In the beginning of the film, Lee has just been released from a mental hospital and is trying to gain her independence. She does her best to please Mr. Grey, however, he ends up firing Lee because of his feelings for her. He doesn’t believe he is good enough and pushes her away thinking he will only hurt her in the end.

In Fifty Shades of Grey, Dakota Johnson plays Anastasia Steele and Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey. Ana and Lee are both young, inexperienced women, both of whom I loved and related to. Mr. Grey and Christian Grey are both powerful men. Even though these characters seem similar on the surface, there are differences between each of them. Ana is a more intellectual and grounded character, whereas Lee comes off as unstable at times. Ana is reluctant to become a submissive, while Lee pursues it enthusiastically. Christian Grey is more adamant about Ana being his than Mr. Grey is about pursuing Lee.

Secretary and Fifty Shades of Grey are definitely not the first erotic romance films made, nor will they be the last, but they were the first I had ever seen.  I've read articles where Fifty Shades was called a rip-off of Secretary, which I don’t agree with because both films brought a unique perspective to the relationship between these men and women. 

Fifty Shades of Grey is the first film in a trilogy, so the fate of these characters is still a mystery.  In Secretary, we see Lee run away from her wedding to Peter to be with Mr. Grey. After she declares her love for him, Mr. Grey has her stay in one place without moving. This causes a spectacle among her family and fiancĂ©. However, Lee and Mr. Grey end up married and happy together. In some quirky way, their relationship is more loving than most conventional ones I’ve seen. I felt wistful during the last scene of Fifty Shades because of the longing Ana and Christian conveyed for each other. Their story is far from over. 

Both films showed me a different side to relationships then I was used to seeing. Fifty Shades of Grey was criticized because of its supposed violence against women. However, everything between Christian and Ana was consensual. Films about controversial subjects always spark reactions from different parts of society. 

Lisa's Scores:

Fifty Shades of Grey - 8/10
Secretary - 9/10  


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