Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 2002. Slough Pond, TwoPoundBag Productions, double A Films. Screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson, adapted by Steven Shainberg, Erin Cressida Wilson from the short story by Mary Gaitskill. Cinematography by Steven Fierberg. Produced by Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby, Steven Shainberg. Music by Angelo Badalamenti. Production Design by Amy Danger. Costume Design by Marjorie Bowers. Film Editing by Pam Wise. Boston Film Critics Awards 2002. Golden Globe Awards 2002. Gotham Awards 2002. Independent Spirit Awards 2002. National Board of Review Awards 2002. Toronto International Film Festival 2002.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is an intensely self-destructive masochist who is released from a mental institution with a certificate of health that might be a bit too premature for her optimistic mother (Lesley Ann Warren). Making her way out into the world, she gets a job working as a secretary for a sheepish lawyer (James Spader) who eventually discovers this dark little world that his assistant retreats into when she’s unhappy. Soon he’s unleashing the joy of domination, while she finds release in submitting to her boss’s every desire. It isn’t long before we as an audience discover just how tricky the definitions of ‘master’ and ‘slave’ are: Spader is the one barking the commands, but just whose will is he appeasing? The film is funny and deliciously erotic, but not nearly as controversial or even subtle as it seems to think it is. It’s child’s play compared to Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, a truly disturbing film about masochism.