Lee, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal is slumped over in a purple raincoat glancing at Mr. Grey’s lit sign: Help-Wanted in an eager, but frightened expression. This is the sort of imagery that the director, Steven Shainberg plays with. While viewing The Secretary I felt like a little girl watching a contemporary version of “The Little Red Riding Hood”, where James Spader plays the wolf. The environment of Mr. Grey’s firm is fantastical with its garden décor along with Mr. Grey’s fascination with orchids.
The original version of the little red riding hood is far from sweet. It was toned down so that parents could teach their young daughters a lesson without including the real gory details of pedophilia. The little red riding hood, as we all know it, was meant to warn young girls about the dangers of strange older men. Lee can be a representation of the classic little red riding hood with her childish mannerisms. Some of those mannerisms are her squeaky tone of voice, nervous sniffles, and ultimately her playfulness with Mr. Grey. One such example of her playfulness is when Lee, in an effort to be spanked by Mr. Grey, places a large worm wrapped and sealed into a paper for Mr. Grey’s disapproval.
The viewer gets the sense that Lee knows what Mr. Grey is up to behind the professional persona, but she gives into it like a child. This act of playfulness is also used in the film Lolita(1997), but in a literal way because of her young age, unlike that of Lee. Disney also tried to capture the alternate version of the little red riding hood story through The Beauty and The Beast(1991), which was highly successful. The only objection I had to it, when I saw it at a young age was when the beast transformed into the handsome prince. I desperately wished that the beast remained as the wolf-like figure because of Belle’s love for him either way. The Secretary was enjoyable to view because of its alternate take on the story of the scared, young girl and the big, bad wolf. The ending is much happier than horrific. Rather than the wolf devouring little red riding hood, the wolf and girl fall in love and live happily ever after.
Steven Shainberg films also works this theme into his other film, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Dianne Arbus(2006), in which an beautiful upper class woman falls for a man who suffers from a skin disease causing him to grow long hair on every inch of his body. In a way one could say he resembles a wolf. Although it is less of an up ending than The Secretary, it still rings as a happy story. The Secretary ends with Lee on the porch watching Mr. Grey leave the house and Lee’s last voice over: “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.” Lets just hope that Steven Shainberg has more of this to pull out of his pocket because I'll be the first to run to theatres sporting my usual hooded sweater ( It must be subconscious or just for the sake of comfort).