CHICAGO — Rehabilitation has been a common trope in films with a central character who is disabled since the earliest years of cinema. This trope is often used to support an overcoming narrative that upholds the benefits (and benevolence) of medical science or to alleviate the fears of the non-disabled that should they acquire a disability it can be cured. The 2002 film Secretary subverts the idea of disability being at the mercy of the medical establishment by proposing BDSM as a viable, if not superior, method to overcoming self-harm.
The film centers on Lee Holloway, a woman recently released from a mental institution. The character comes into her own and ceases to injure her body after she begins dating; first a friend from high school and later entering into a Dominant and submissive relationship with her boss. On the surface the film seems to follow a standard rehabilitation narrative. However, that is undermined by the film establishing a romantic triangle between Holloway, her old friend who also has a mental health history and her sexually dominant boss.
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