02/08/14 Film Essay # , , ,

Third Person (2014)

Third Person (2014)
Director: Paul Haggis
Writer: Paul Haggis
Stars: Liam Neeson, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody


Third Person draws us into a mythic realm of healing fiction where a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist deftly flays open the human darkness of a loss of trust in oneself – a loss no less relevant today than in ancient Greece where Asklepios, god of medicine, created drama in Epidaurus to heal the sick in body and heart above a labyrinth of snakes.

Forgiveness of oneself can be as elusive as forgiveness of another.  If you have ever experienced the umbilical cord of trust being cut, have ever been thrown into the depths of despair and emotional confusion wrought when fate delivers a blow to your belief in yourself or in someone you love, you will not only see but feel deeply the dilemma of finding a way that is dramatized in Third Person. It’s not simply outside events that fall apart but one’s inner world that can slip on its own weakness, heralding a psychic disaster that requires healing.  If there’s a path to forgiveness, Third Person offers a chance to find one.  It’s a film for adults only.

The title sets the tone to watch relationships as a third person might, like a parent hovering above a child with so much vigilance and so little control.  In the beginning, a coin drops into water setting off a cascade of ripples, one wave affecting the next but without clear definition of impact.  We’re not just going to see Third Person with our eyes. We’re going to feel and sense another presence, like the pull of a undertow beneath the surface.

The way Third Person is put together – three stories of three couples in three cities – requires attention.  As the film unfolds, visual and verbal clues link characters together without regard for physical location to illuminate the complications of one man’s tormented inner world.  A bold leap from simple narrative to intra-psychic exploration occurs when a note written in one city becomes a note is taken in another. Hardly a cinematic gimmick, a shift in perspective from outer to inner is clarified.  To grasp the depth of the human dilemma, we must simultaneously look within ourselves while we track who’s crossing whose path on the big screen.  After leaving the theater, questions will no doubt remain about the exact relations of characters because the facts intensely involve personal interpretation.  Did his mistress really come naked to his door or is his muse rousing him from a sleep of complacency?  Which characters remain?  None or one or two?  Angst hangs heavy when innocence is lost. Which ripples fade, which ones persist?  Maturity lurks in discovery.

Ostensibly, the principle current in Third Person is the plight of a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction novelist (Liam Neeson) who is spiraling downward, producing ever less compelling novels since his first won the coveted prize. He’s facing the proverbial blank page, writer’s block. Well heeled and used to the good life, he’s holed up in the suite of a fancy Paris hotel and has just summoned his mistress to join him, presumably to break the cold spell and light a fire under him.  She (Olivia Wilde) certainly looks the part.  Never too skinny or too rich, she’s the woman who can disappear on a dime and keep a man running after her even when she’s asleep.  A gamer from the get-go, she won’t escape the noose of insecurity wrought by betrayal that holds the center of this film. But that comes out later, much much later.  For the time being, she’s a man’s dream and a man’s worst nightmare – completely irresistible.  When he pulls a tiny red lace dress out of a shopping bag as a surprise present, we can’t wait for the scene in which she will wear it.

A good-looking man (Adrien Brody) wearing, ostensibly, a fancy Italian suit is on the phone covertly referring to a con he’s just pulled off.  To pass time in Rome, he wanders into a bar where the bartender doesn’t speak English, makes an ass of himself and falls head over heels into a scam. She (Moran Atias) is wearing a red dress that links, by color, one woman to the other in the Pulitzer Prize novelist’s story but we don’t yet know how.  She has, ostensibly lost her eight-year old daughter to a pimp and needs money to get her back.  When he picks up her purse, left behind when she rushes out of the bar, he’s clearly into her up to his neck and we won’t know why until the end of the film. He’s got money, but not as much as she thought he did.  He wants something, but not what she thinks he does.

While the man in his faux Italian suit is being led down the back alleys of Rome, another tricky situation is unfolding in New York City that also involves a mother (Mila Kunis) who’s lost a child.  Possibly a druggie, she’s been divorced by a renowned abstract painter (James Franco) who has custody of their young son and is legally denying her visitation rights. His wife’s lawyer (Maria Bello) wears a white suit linking her, by color, to the Pulitzer Prize author’s wife (Kim Basinger).  The painter is a self-righteous egoist who epitomizes the kind of judgment with a capital J that feeds insolent condescension and violent reactions. The egoist is brought to his knees by a gesture from his son that kindles a feeling of humility beyond his ability to imagine until it happens.  By this time, judgment and forgiveness are mortal enemies wreaking havoc on each human soul in the film. The path to understanding and empathy lies hidden, blocked and contained by the proverbial blank white page, the empty computer screen in front of the novelist.

The Pulitzer Prize novelist’s wife is on the phone at home in New York City.  She’s waiting for him, soulfully connected and deeply knowing but essentially estranged from a husband who never takes off his wedding ring.  It’s to her that he sends the rewrite of his novel. And it is she who asks, “Does she know?” and leaves us wondering just what and who she’s asking about. Is she asking about his mistress in real life or the one he’s created in his novel? Is the affair over or does she know his grief as well as her own?  Has he made peace for himself?  Is he ready to come home?

Third Person is not a story meant to be told as a narrative but experienced as a dynamic of forces alive and well within each of us and between us and others in relationship.   If the novel at the heart of the film were available to read, personal visualizations would activate the psyche, enlivening the words on the page, and Paul Haggis’ story would become our imaginary story. Third Person lifts hope for a triumph of forgiveness.

When trust is disturbed, a rush to judgment is the least satisfying outcome.  Blame blocks observation, seeing what is.  “Watch me” says a small boy imploring his father to see him for who he is; “I can’t help watching you” says a man who sees a woman’s beauty as a last chance for forgiveness; “It happened on your watch” is the accusation a man can’t get out of his head when he’s taken his eyes off his son for thirty seconds. “Watch me” the mistress declares, running from the market at the end of the film.  “Watch me” lingers in the mind as the exasperated, angry lawyer dives to the bottom of a pool and vaporizes. Is judgment easing as attention is given to the pain?

Loss of innocence can result from deliberate action or by accident. It’s not the cause but the crack that breaks the bond of trust.  Whether trust is disturbed in oneself by crossing one’s own conscience or by suffering betrayal with a beloved, the observer who keeps watch will find healing emerging in plain sight.  A shoelace tied or a glass of milk unexpectedly delivered can shift the tides of grief.

Third Person lifts our point of view above the personal where we can see the other side, feel the pain and craziness of both accused and accuser.  We carry both within us, hear their voices every day. Many forces are at work in the human psyche beneath a wound of betrayal.  How do we move beyond the conflict?  Third Person resorts to an age-old method, anthropomorphizing emotions and creating drama. The voices of emotions are heard, their faces imagined.  Risks are taken and truth revealed until the mythical energy of snakes shedding their skins is aroused and renewal accomplished.



In 2004, Paul Haggis won two Best Picture Academy Awards in one year, one for Million Dollar Baby directed by Clint Eastwood and one for Crash which he wrote and directed as he has Third PersonHere is my review of Crash, A Transformative Experience, published in “Jung Journal:Culture & Psyche”, 2006:

This profile examines the film Crash as a series of allegorical stories that explores the inevitable “collisions” in a mixed-culture society such as present-day L.A. involving race, class, religion, and gender, which are transformed into an unexpected path toward healing society’s false divisions. These conflicts are presented in terms of Jung’s idea of conjunctio — the coming together of extreme opposites that activates elements buried deep in the psyche, something like the transformative power of the alchemical clash of opposites. The opposing drives that set-up these types of conflicts are an individual’s desire to create boundaries in order to maneuver through their increasingly bewilderingly complex society, and the personal, social, cultural, and spiritual needs for the growth and wisdom that comes from crashing into — and overcoming — the prejudices and false projections that we create in an attempt to protect ourselves from a feeling that our lives have slipped out of control.

And here is my closing paragraph from that review, reflecting upon Crash as a film like Third Person, a mirror bringing human nature to light for moral consideration.

“Allegories leave morals in their wake. To the naked eye on a cold dark night, soot and sparks from a car set on fire to mask a murder look the same as snowflakes announcing a miracle. No one’s bad all the time; no one’s good all the time. The best also can be the worst, failing to love and failing those who love them. The worst can also be the best, coming through when least expected and making a magnificent difference.

Perhaps miracle and tragedy are not separate matters but integral, part of a larger totality that supports us all — and we would do well to include “the other”, heed the wisdom. Is Los Angeles a big city symbolic of a mystic center where the tendencies of evolution and involution reside? Is Crash illuminating an ancient dynamic for modern times in its revelatory stories?”

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15/08/12 Film Essay # , , ,

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Writers: Benh ZeitlinLucy Alibar 
Stars: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly


In a hidden-in-full-view delta community called the Bathtub separated from civilization by a levee somewhere in the South, a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy scrambles through swampland and piles of junk in pink underpants and white rubber boots where she lives with her father.  Oblivious to danger and endowed with an extraordinary imagination, Hushpuppy talks to her drawings and shares her thoughts about a balance of nature within which she believes she lives.  A fierce storm – no doubt inspired by Katrina – drastically changes her reality.  Her father refuses to leave the shack he calls home in spite of catastrophic damage in the delta and a personal affliction that promises to kill him. Prehistoric beasts rampage Hushpuppy’s fantasies. Faced with inner and outer forces beyond her control, she attempts to repair the loss of balance in the universe by pitting her spirit against the elements.

I found Beasts of the Southern Wild simultaneously engaging and incredulous.  If I let myself, I could put myself in place of this child making her way through a world of disasters as if it were normal.  That is, I could remember when, as a child, I accepted the world in which I grew up as normal and did the best I could with it. There was, of course, lots in my life that wasn’t ‘normal’ and the fear that I lived with as a child did escalate into a fear that often made situations more threatening than they were.  As Samuel Clemens said, “I dealt with more crises than actually existed.”  So when six-year-old Hushpuppy’s fears grow into a nightmare of prehistoric beasts pounding through her psyche, I understood.  But when I stepped back I couldn’t believe this child’s survival depended on her overcoming her own fears.

Faced with a storm the likes of Katrina flooding her homeland below the levy, killing food sources and contaminating more than she could grasp, she blamed herself for her world falling apart and made efforts to repair it.  I have to believe that true, real and elemental threatening forces are, most likely, going to take her life before she has much time to live it.  She’s only six and already her mother’s disappeared.  Adults in her world can barely care for themselves much less a child.  Angry with her beloved father who disappears without warning and returns without apology, she nearly blows herself up.  When she gets cut by a bottom-feeding catfish while trying to bludgeon it to death to eat for food, no mention is made of antiseptic.  Life threatening dangers are an every day occurrence for Hushpuppy.  Her one source of protection – her alcoholic, hard-headed ignorant father — is dying and does die before the film ends leaving her singularly on her own.  No one steps forward to offer an arm. For sure, no one offers safe passage.  I couldn’t imagine one even though at the end she walks toward us, away from the dead end of a pier surrounded by flood waters.

I felt Hushpuppy was an apt name for a wild child likely to be consumed before fulfilling the promise of the filmmakers’ imagination to become a ‘heroine’ putting the world back together for herself and the rest of us.  I walked out of the theater shaking my head, admiring the filmmakers for taking on the story of a child up against elemental forces and inviting us to hope we’re not leaving our children a world beyond their means to survive.  However, in spite of Hushpuppy’s abiding optimism, the filmmakers’ courage to challenge the dregs of Katrina’s wake with a hopeful vision — as well as my own enthusiasm for girls as new heroes for a new age — left me feeling bleak.  I cannot, in good faith, regard this child’s survival with joy when I think we, as viewers of her life, should despair that a child in our country is growing up as she has — and presumably is.

That said, I did get an unexpected insight into the motivation behind the ancient cave paintings I’ve viewed in Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain.  Everyone is enthralled by these paintings.  They exhibit sophisticated drawing skill, three-dimensional perspective and creative interpretation of animals and events that tell much about humankind living 40,000 years ago.  But everyone wonders why the animals were painted.  What motivated men to go deep into caves and lie on their backs for hours drawing bulls, horses and other animals by torchlight?Beasts provides a possible answer.  The painters may have been trying to take the power of these animals into themselves, to transform their fear of the beasts they had to kill and eat to survive by drawing them, bringing them to life within themselves.  By capturing their images, they could make their fear work for them.  The cave drawings suggest a connection between the feeling the beast aroused and the power of the beast itself.  Man and beast integrally connected by an imaginative act of creation.  The drawn animal was not symbolic, not a representation but an actual embodiment of a felt fusion of strength.

James Hillman, an eminent archetypal psychologist, believed that dreaming an animal was more than symbolic.  He believed a dream animal must be taken as real, as real as any animal existing in the outside world. To dream an animal is to encounter its characteristics as part of one’s own psyche.  To describe, draw and capture an animal in detail would be to enliven elemental forces and connect with an animal’s being as part of one’s own being.   When Hushpuppy scratches charcoal creatures on the inside of a cardboard box, there’s a likeness to the cave dwellers.  Perhaps she’s literally merging with the primordial beast’s fierce anger and drawing forth survival instincts. Her drawing a face above a cherished tee shirt saved from her mother and talking to it as a parental force, alive in the waters of the Bathtub in which she lives, is one of the most touching scenes in the film.

To be sure, the film’s young protagonist, who survives within the natural ebb and flow of environmental elements, stretched my imagination.  Hushpuppy fused the storm with her fantasies of the beasts.  She fused the catfish with her father; she thought she’d killed her father when she pounded his chest as she had the catfish.  She fused the waters of the delta with the waters where her mother resided.  Her fusion of the realities of everyday life, the realities of her emotions and the realities of the larger natural elements imbue her with a special sense of power that works for her.  And it may well have worked for cave dwellers 40,000 years ago. Unbelievable as real, Beasts of the Southern Wildstands proud and profound as a dream of imaginative achievement that furthers mankind.

We’re all still here, aren’t we?

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13/12/02 Film Essay # , , , ,

Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

Dirty Pretty Things (2002)
Director: Stephen Frears
Writer: Steven Knight
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tautou, Sophie Okonedo


“Once in awhile, there’s a special movie. If Dirty Pretty Things were a poem, you’d want to tuck it in your handbag, briefcase or backpack. When you had a break or a breakdown in your busy day, you’d reach for its inspiration.”

The movie opens with a handsome black African, Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), hustling a fare for his gypsy cab at Heathrow, explaining, “I rescue those let down by the system”. With these casual words, Okwe announces that he’s about to play a role much larger than a taxi cab driver who gives people rides from Heathrow to London. Okwe is headed directly into a confrontation with the system that exploits the poor and rewards the rich without mercy. His determination to skirt the system begins to crumble when the young Turkish woman, Senay (Audrey Tautou), who has rented him her couch for sleeping gets routed by the immigration police for giving him, an illegal alien, refuge. He worsens her already poor status, lowers her from a decent job as hotel maid to a sweatshop seamstress where her boss demands oral sex during work breaks and endangers her sanity. She goes to their hotel boss, Sneaky (Sergei Lopez) for help, desperate for a passport to America and willing to do anything. As if things weren’t bad enough already, Sneaky makes her a victim in a deadly game from which only Okwe, breaking out of his safe haven of anonymity and acting as a doctor, can save her. Not just dangerous to his being found out and exported for mysterious criminal acts in Nigeria, rescuing Senay will make him part of the system he abhors — the one that “lets people down”, denigrating human value and exploiting desperation.

Almost a fable, Dirty Pretty Things is about a man in exile. Although Okwe has a country and a religion, he is no one no where. He lives, as we find him, as an illegal immigrant in London. He earns just enough as a cab driver by day and a hotel clerk by night to rent the couch of young Turkish woman, herself a marginal immigrant. He comes from Nigeria. He’s been trained as a doctor but through circumstances beyond his control, he cannot practice nor can he go home. Okwe may rest but he never sleeps. He is a man who must stay awake to survive. Awake, on his toes and ready for just about anything.

It is the feeling of Okwe being singularly alone, self-contained without reference, that lifts his story above the norm. With an intuitive knowing that this will be no ordinary David and Goliath computerized concoction of evil bearing down on good, we watch Okwe’s every move, wondering what will become of him – and us, as a consequence of our identification with his choices. We may feel vulnerable but we’re fascinated.

Okwe is the orphan left on the rock to survive, in the bull rushes or the wilderness at the mercy of strangers, animals and invisible spirits. The story is set for disaster. It is only in Okwe’s choices that hope resides, not just for himself but for those around him. We wince a bit at Okwe’s strict unwillingness to be corrupted by a system promising to line his pockets with gold. He won’t take a tip from his boss to be quiet about suspicious events but he’ll steal drugs from a state run hospital to relieve fellow taxi drivers from the clap. Real lives hang in the balance as Okwe drives a cab through empty days, slides through his nights as a desk clerk in a hotel where no one is who they seem to be.

Stripped of material goods, serious work and the comfort of family, Okwe carries his loneliness as a spiritual aloneness. He doesn’t whine. He observes. And, while an outraged sadness may fill our eyes with tears as we accompany him into the underbelly truths of people who have no means, we like watching Okwe. Like a modern day Siddartha, Okwe puts his faith in his ability to think, wait and fast as he, a man without place or identity, seeks to solve the mystery of a human heart stuffed down a toilet.

Come on. That metaphor can’t be missed. A man living by the seat of his pants midst big city squalor finds a heart – cut from some anonymous someone somewhere – in the toilet? His, ours, theirs — right? Quite a cast of strangers. It’s the Turkish girl’s heart, the taxi driver’s who hails from all over the world, the greedy doorman’s, the sleazy hotel boss’s, the legendary prostitute’s and all the lost people who come and go through a hotel’s revolving door. That heart stuck in the toilet is the heart of the matter for the disenfranchised. And this is a story about the matter of choice when there is no choice, a choice made against all odds.

Dirty Pretty Things delves into the act of personal choice, asking hard questions. Once the human heart has been trashed, sacrificed, bought and sold in a parking lot somewhere, can it be preserved, somehow, by small acts? Do small, everyday choices make a difference? When ethics, integrity and compassion are on their way to a sewer in a compromised society, can they be resurrected, made more than a source of pride, solace for lost souls walking into dead ends? Is there just some chance that choices made from the heart could be useful, even effective in places of great adversity and times of great danger? They’re worthy questions, begging for better answers than bombs. And it’s more than nice to see Stephen Frears throw his beautiful idea up on the big screen for our contemplation. It’s special.

And then there’s that other metaphor, the chess game where planning ahead, anticipating your opponent’s next move makes or breaks the outcome. Okwe’s a master chess player, moving in seconds while his opponent and good friend, Guo Yi (Benedict Won), moves at double slow speed. Guo Yi ekes out his subsistence in the basement of a hospital as a porter in the morgue. Lest we miss his significance as a prophet ferrying the dead, Guo Yi sews the suit pockets of an anonymous dead Chinese man shut so he can’t take bad luck with him to the hereafter. In a small, unnecessary act of kindness, Guo Yi bestows eternal happiness with a needle and thread.

Settle in. Slow down. You are entering a magical place where dead men and women get a second chance. Follow Okwe’s moves as he shows how an invisible man navigates the darkness of a system that cannot be fixed. To put Senay in safety, Okwe takes her to his friend’s basement refuge. But she cannot live among the dead and soon finds herself in even greater danger. Of course, Guo Yi sees instantly that Senay and Okwe love one another and that Okwe will do whatever he can to find a way out for her. True to his nature as philosopher ferryman, Guo Yi gladly assists Okwe in a deadly game of chess that could, if played well, set Senay free. If played well and flawlessly, Okwe might escape as well. But ready yourself for a surprise because this chess game is being played in the bowels of the earth where morphing is commonplace. By mythical account, the underground is where personal identity can dead-end into a brand new beginning.

And then, to keep Dirty Pretty Things pretty funny, there’s that spunky prostitute, Juliette (Sophie Okonedo), who put the whole tale in motion by telling Okwe where he could find the heart. Then, there she is, sitting on the side of the tub with Senay at the eleventh hour and joking, “Ah, so here we are. The virgin and the whore”. As the caper comes to a close, it’s Juliette who raises a finger, identifying herself as the carrier of an everlasting truth blowing in the wind of an underground parking lot. Invisibility is in the eyes of the beholder.

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14/11/02 Film Essay # , , ,

Secretary (2002)

Secretary (2002)
Director: Steven Shainberg
Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson
Stars: James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Davies


“Don’t underestimate the submissive one, the one who serves and cares for another. The Secretary dramatizes the healing power of the one who gives in, choosing to yield quietly to even the most absurd demands of one who would be dominant – – and then glides past the deadly monster of despair, indifference and alienation to a fresh beginning.”

Not everyone wants to know. Sometimes the pain of living is so deep, so buried beneath the skin that people are driven to take desperate measures that are hard to fathom. We’re a sophisticated society. We know hurt lies beneath anger. We know abuse begets abuse. And we know addiction defends poorly against emotional pain. So when we see a young woman cutting, piercing and carving the smooth skin reminiscent of childhood, the inner thigh so close to the source of pleasure, we ask. What suffering could drive her so mad as to reach for its source with the point of a knife? What other relief might she seek than slicing openings in the soft underbelly parts of her body? The Secretary suggests at least one answer; one path to healing a wound sealed by scars covering an unspeakable pain.

It’s true. Queasy, mixed feelings of vulnerability, fear and repulsion intensify a viewer’s voyeuristic fascination while watching a young woman puncture her flesh, yield to being spanked and crawl around on the floor in the Secretary. She does it so willingly, following her own desire more than the demands of her boss. It’s as if a taboo story has been thrown into thelight, giving us a rare peek into the complicated meaning of a sado-masochistic dynamic between two people in a relationship. Caring and pain are interwoven. In the Secretary, submission lies close to arousal. Giving in, giving up and giving over snuggle up close to a spunky spirit within this young woman that has not forgotten what it feels like to love – – not the other, but her own true self.

Secretary tells the tale of a woman and a man who dare to bring their pain to the surface, scrape through the scar tissue of old wounds and, surprisingly – – to them and audience alike – – find tendrils of love growing between them. The interpersonal seesaw of dominance and submission is surely familiar to anyone who’s been in an intimate relationship – – and, it usually isn’t very funny. But the exaggerated sado-masochistic dynamics in an allegorical story such as the Secretary where each partner gains as they lose, loses as they gain begs the ludicrous, inviting the kind of laughter where, as an audience, we are all laughing at ourselves. And when it’s over, I would venture to say that it will not be whether you believe it’s true that two people who dare to give up control find happiness. It’s about whether you’re willing to ponder the possibility.

Mythically speaking, Lee Holloway (wide-eyed Maggie Gyllenhaal) begins a personal quest when she takes the job of secretary to lawyer, Mr. E. Edward Grey (no one plays repressed sexuality as well as James Spader). It’s a classic hero’s journey into the vulnerable core of one’s being, but usually taken by a male. In this case, a female protagonist enters an inner symbolic realm of extreme trials and humiliating ordeals that will test her feminine mettle, take her to her nadir and return her – transformed – to the ordinary world. Like a true hero, if she’s successful, she will learn to be true to herself, receive a blessing and find her place in society.

Lee suffers a modern hero’s beginning, the deep pain of abandonment felt as a child in a dysfunctional family. She’s destined for happiness only if she can thwart society’s master plan to sacrifice her as throw away child. As a young woman just emerging from a mental hospital, Ms. Holloway responds to a want ad for a secretary. When she arrives for her interview, she finds a permanent “Secretary Wanted” sign outside the law office – – – like a motel advertising available rooms. Single bulbs circle the sign, lighting up on command from a switch inside as if beckoning to the next innocent traveler, “Enter here.” And in she goes, stepping from a disturbed adolescence into the labyrinthine offices of a very strange lawyer, Mr. E. Edward Grey.

As Lee arrives for her job interview, it’s appropriately raining, soaking the barely put together Lee Holloway into a pathetic sight for the waiting, distracted and wolfish Mr. E. Edward Grey. But she’s covered in a blue rain cape – – not red, so we don’t confuse the familiar fairy tale where a girl must be rescued with a woman’s quest for transformation. This journey will require both secretary and boss to be victims of animalistic appetite, both to be rescuers of each other’s most vulnerable selves.

The myth of Theseus lays the groundwork for Lee Holloway’s quest. Theseus willingly entered the deadly labyrinth of King Minos to which he had been sacrificed as a victim of circumstance — he was the only son of a king but born outside his father’s royal marriage. To claim his crown, he had to triumph over the Minotaur (half bull & half man) that symbolized the bestiality that a young prince out of favor must conquer to become the next king. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for young women to step into the role of a Theseus type hero hoping to heal the dualistic, judgmental monster of indifference and alienation that wreaks havoc in her world.

We may fear for Ms. Holloway’s life as she seeks a way out of fear and despair in the dark cave of masochistic compliance but we are riveted – – and strangely optimistic. There’s a gleam in her eye, a soft rhythm to her step. Amazing. She seems to know what she’s doing. She possesses what Theseus had to be given. Ariadne who was the princess daughter of the rigid patriarch, King Minos, gave Theseus a ball of string to unravel as he entered the labyrinth, to follow for a safe return. Lee Holloway holds her string of sensitive instincts and feelings to accompany her in – – and out. There she goes, hanging by a thread, moving steadfastly into the beastly emotions that develop between herself and Mr. E. Edward Grey.

As Lee makes her way through an outer office strewn with papers and files, a morose ex-secretary exits the premises. Presumably, a fallen victim to the Minotaur. Lee proceeds cautiously down the hall into the inner sanctum of Mr. E. Edward Grey. Could a modern Minotaur be defined any better than by his abundant cache of red marker pens ready to slash errors into perfection or a display of exotic orchids kept flawless by his hypodermic injections? In either case, it’s now clear neither he nor she can bear a soft touch. Only the point of a needle, a crisp red pen or a sewing scissors will do. She’s too bundled up in a cloud of sniffling compliance. He’s too equipped with snap judgements, well hidden behind a thick wall of protective condescension. Piercing appearances will be their only chance.

“Yes, Mr. Holloway, I really really want this boring job”, she says and steps further into the labyrinth.

We only get hints of what has driven Lee to carry a sewing kit with implements of torture ready at hand if emotional distress overwhelms her. She has been brought up in a family where pain is its middle name and relief has no name at all. And there’s even the implication that her only option out of the family is back in – – into a marriage with the boy next door, Peter (Jeremy Davis), who idealistically believes that playacting normal married people will solve all their problems. But what sticks Lee to her parents, what has kept her stuck to them – pain to pain – following their way, is a background not explored. But it is clear that addictive compliance to suffering is the home ground from which Lee must break away.

So, when Mr. Grey sneers at Lee’s pitiable presentation of herself, chastises her for sloppy performance and insists on mature behavior, he inadvertently fulfills a primitive, childlike need for caring and attention, setting Lee free to gleefully take control of herself. For the first time in her life, she is nobody’s daughter. She can FEEL because she is not bound to be numb for the sake of keeping peace for the sake of her parents. She is somebody – – a secretary. For the first time in her life, she refuses a ride from her mother and walks home alone! In her fantasies, she is lifted up into a woman of divine destiny serving a greater cause, becoming the sexual woman she is meant to be. She can choose, choose to descend into forbidden, bittersweet darkness of longing for love. She leaves behind being nice, agreeable and the apple of someone else’s eye. She follows her instincts, as politically incorrect as they may be, seeking excitement, delight and desire. Like Theseus, she holds on tight to a thin line of pleasure that got buried long ago. Not the point of a scissors but agonizing pangs of real feelings are breaking through as she searches for the core of the labyrinth where the deadly beast of ambivalence, division and stultification lives. As she goes deeper and deeper beneath surface appearances, Lee dares to sort bestial from beautiful.

Grey, of course, cringes while she sorts. He felt secure in his dominant status, sure that he could maintain control. He was expecting another quick death. Instead, softness invades him at the sight of her willing compliance. He feels her touching him, arousing him and driving him further toward his own vulnerability. This secretary is no ordinary young woman. She revels in her feelings and comes back for more. But he can’t stand to see her thriving on his brutish caring; he resists but he’s simultaneously intrigued. He’s even jealous of her boyfriend. If he can’t control her, he can’t control his feelings. But Lee won’t be quashed. She makes deliberate errors, inviting the slash of his pen and his demand to perfect herself. When errors no longer bring him to her, she resorts to a pointed non-verbal message that does the job. She pastes a dead worm in a letter and conveys to him that he is a man unworthy of her silence. His impeccable image tainted by a reflection he can’t ignore, Mr. E. Edward Grey rises to the challenge. He must make her wrong and, with his great red pen, circles the worm relentlessly and loses control. She has stolen his heart. As a last ditch effort to keep head and heart apart, he orders her to leave. But she refuses.

That’s it. Lee Holloway just refuses. In an allegory, the tables are often turned and, luckily for Mr. E. Edward Grey, he is powerless to turn his rules against her. She eludes him, and luckily for her, she does it in his office where friends and neighbors as well as her ex-boyfriend can find her so she doesn’t die of starvation. This isn’t Romeo and Juliet. When the monster at the center of this labyrinth is killed, Lee and Edward come out together. I can tell you that much.

In truth, Secretary is a date movie – fun, sexy and redemptive of romance. This modernized myth of man and woman sorting bestial from beautiful in the Secretary contains a secret, unexpected resolution. We know love is buggy. For the ‘piece de re-sis-tance’, the right ending for a nasty tale, you will have to see the film.

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