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Assume the position. 

Year: 2002 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 18 Cert – Not suitable for under 18s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  

Domination, masocism and sado-masochism are the topics being tackled in this quirky indie sex drama based on a short story by Mary Gaitskill and starring Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lee Holloway, a self-harming alumnus of a psychiatric institution. Upon her release, she returns to her neurotic family, whiles away the days in the pool and lovingly looks at her instruments of pain.

All of this changes when she takes typing lessons and finds herself a job as a secretary for an eccentric lawyer, Edward Grey (Spader).  Whilst Holloway is submissive and lacks self-esteem, Grey is dominant, obsessive and a perfectionist. So, when Holloway falls short of his standards, Grey punishes her. Their relationship blooms, with Grey discovering Holloway’s self-harm and thus devising a range of bizarre games, situations and role-plays so that she need never harm herself again. Soon, their two contrasting personalities become dependent on each other, just like their roles as lawyer and secretary.

Holloway craves attention and turns to deliberately making typing mistakes so that she may be punished, but when Grey starts to lose interest, she starts to plot her way back into the way of office life she had become accustomed to and felt safe in. To this end, she starts to see Peter (Davies), and Grey realises that he may soon lose his agreeable secretary...

Casting for this Sundance Festival winner is excellent - James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal both play their characters with extreme conviction, making you really believe in them. Spader has already carved out a niche for himself, acting in quirky sex films, whilst newcomer Gyllenhaal oozes appeal and impresses in a role which could quite easily have become secondary to Spader’s Grey, but she is instead forceful and establishes herself as a necessary element in the film.

Don’t come to see this film expecting laughs-a-plenty - it’s dark, quirky, twisted and can be disturbing at times, but all in a good way. Steven Shainberg extracts humour by closely observing the behaviours and interactions of the two main characters, allowing the viewer to become part of their world. If you liked films such as In The Company Of Men and Happiness, you will love this exploration of office sexual politics.

From the moment you see the permanent sign for a secretary outside Grey’s office, you know you’re heading into a world where something isn’t quite right, but this film, somehow, is just right.

Alex Coe

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Screenings of this film:

2003/2004 Autumn Term (35mm)