The Insert Shot: Secretary
By Tom Houseman
March 29, 2012
Lee has no control in her life, both in a literal sense and a figurative one. Lee lives with her mother and does not own a car. When she becomes Mr. Grey's secretary her mother drives her to and from work. She has very little privacy and virtually no autonomy. But the world she lives in is emotionally chaotic as well. There is constant sadness and anger around her that she cannot control, stop, or shut out. She cannot control her parents or her own emotional reaction to them. Lee has found only one way to actually take control of her life, and it is by intentionally giving herself to the pain. By completely embracing the pain she inflicts upon herself, by choosing not to fight it, she is in a sense finding freedom: the freedom to not have to fight. It is the act of choosing that gives Lee control, even if the choice is to relinquish all control.
Mr. Grey's life is less chaotic than Lee's, but he also feels like he does not have control over his own life, mainly because of the tumultuous divorce through which he is going. Mr. Grey also deals with the lack of control in his life by craving control, but in a far more direct way than Lee does. Lee gives herself to the pain completely, taking control by relinquishing freedom. Mr. Grey takes control by putting himself in situations where he is literally, physically, in control. One of our early impressions of Mr. Grey involves him watering his plants. He is not haphazard or laissez affaire in the way he waters his plants, but intensely meticulous. Often people who do not have control over their lives find ways to create extreme and detailed ways of organizing small aspects of their lives. For Mr. Grey, he finds refuse from the chaos within the complete control he has over the lives of his flowers.
These two characters are dealing with similar issues in diametrically opposed ways. Lee's drug of choice, if you will, is intentionally losing control as a way to distinguish these moments of safety from the rest of her life when she has no choice. Mr. Grey's drug of choice is creating opportunities to have complete control as a way of creating the illusion that he does have control. Neither of these coping mechanisms are healthy because they both avoid the problem rather than creating viable long-term solutions. But they are very, very mutually compatible, which is why they are able to recognize this need in each other.
We can assume that Mr. Grey is more sexually experienced than Lee, considering that he was married and that Lee gives the impression that she is very inexperienced. Based on his experience and their dynamic, Mr. Grey takes the lead. Their initial interactions reveal their obvious sexual attraction and chemistry, and seem to develop into a game. Mr. Grey pushes Lee, seeing how far she will go to follow his instructions. There is not a natural sexual element to rummaging through the garbage for a paper that may have been thrown away, but every interaction that Mr. Grey and Lee have, especially any that involve Mr. Grey giving an order, has a sexual undercurrent to it.
That their relationship quickly becomes less professional is not surprising. The way they move and talk to each other makes it abundantly clear that not only do they desire each other, but that she wants to be submissive to him and he wants to dominate her. Many affairs are complicated by an imbalance of power, but the role that this imbalance plays in this affair is so explicit that it drives all of their actions on a conscious level. Mr. Grey is Lee's boss, which automatically gives him power over her. This inherent power feeds this dynamic, heightened by the sexual energy and the taboo nature of their affair. Most important, this is the way for both of them to feed their addictions.