“The Duke Of Burgundy” Is The Lesbian BDSM Film You’ve Been Waiting For

The Discussion

Rushaa: I mentioned earlier about the trope about the cold domme learning to love.

Fikri: Wait, Cynthia? I might have read it completely differently from you! But go on.

Rushaa: I think there’s this odd idea in so many films that dommes are just generally sadist/bitchy people who don’t really respond to subs. So you get this staging of the incredibly refined, well-dressed, ordered to the point of obsessive person who is frequently rude to the protagonist. Then they learn that there is something special about said person and they act more loving towards them, but that tears them a bit because apparently it is in the domme nature not to love (*cough* The Movie That Shall Not Be Named *cough*). I basically went in expecting something a little like that but with lesbians and the very beginning I was hopeful it would be a little different but I wasn’t sure. I think it actually works very well because the first 5 mins I couldn’t tell what their exact relationship was (whether Evelyn was Cynthia’s maid or love) and I think the movie plays off the expectation that we will be seeing the character’s relationship beginning. When Cynthia peed in her mouth I thought, “Oh sweet, they definitely know each other,” and I could relax since I figured it was all discussed beforehand.

You have this great flip after the beginning where we see things from Cynthia’s point of view, and see how nervous she is about getting everything right because she loves Evelyn so much and wants her to be happy. Cynthia stole my heart at that moment. So I think the film plays with the idea of a cold and unreachable domme initially and then says, “That’s just the illusion, look at the care and intimacy that this power play is actually about.” I thought that was really positive and showed how different facets of BDSM can ultimately just be expressions of love, which I think shocked a couple of people in my screening.

You said you might have a different interpretation? Mine was that Cynthia was desperately in love with Evelyn and didn’t express her limits very well because she was worried about losing or disappointing her. Evelyn also seemed to get too caught up in expressing her wants that she didn’t notice until much later how Cynthia was getting increasingly strained by it all.

Fikri: Okay yeah, I get that. I thought you read it as “cold domme learns to love” (which is, thankfully, not something I am exposed to very much), period, when I saw more of how it was a lover trying to accommodate her partner’s needs as a sadomasochistic submissive (which echoes my own feelings). I knew the beginning was role play but still it was just about uncomfortable enough to put me on edge, because they hadn’t yet shown the terms of play or consent. I appreciated how the film expressed quite clearly that 1. the beauty of BDSM relationships is that often power actually lies in the sub (which is probably something I read from Sinclair Sexsmith), and 2. an equitable relationship is not one in which power dynamics are necessarily even, but rather one in which they can always be renegotiated (which is something I read on Twitter probs).

Rushaa: So I think we basically saw it the same way then.

Fikri: The scene when the two of them were in bed and Cynthia had to narrate a fantasy but was unable to (“Try to be more confident next time,” was it?) and when Evelyn was in the trunk and couldn’t help checking if Evelyn was really okay were def my favourite moments.

Rushaa: It was sweet and it felt nice because it was totally something I would do because I panic about making sure everyone is okay.

Fikri: YEAH it was so cute. I would actually describe bits in this film as cute, which I did not expect!

Rushaa: I felt it was a little mean of Evelyn to not reply in that part because if it were me I would have immediately broken apart the trunk thinking that something had gone horribly wrong.

Fikri: The trunk scene? Didn’t she go “yes!” in an annoyed voice?

Rushaa: Only after Cynthia asked her for the second time when she got no response. I think Evelyn was trying to ignore Cynthia breaking character.

Fikri: Ah, okay. Yeah that goes back to what you said: I completely agree that Cynthia didn’t express her limits well, which was where the story conflict was. It did an excellent job of showing the emotional strain D/s dynamics can cause if they’re not discussed or negotiated, but then we also gotta talk about what I think was one of the most painful moments of the film or at least where there was the most to unpack: the violation of Evelyn’s safeword on her birthday.

Rushaa: The birthday scene at its very beginning already made me uncomfortable because of how passive-aggressive Cynthia was being. I think some other people in the audience initially thought it was Cynthia trying to be more domineering as a birthday present to Evelyn.

Fikri: I did. Especially because the scene about “I wish you would do things without being asked” was just before.

Rushaa: I think it was played to make most people unsure of which it was. I may have too much experience dealing with passive-aggressive people before. When she asked her to lay down I thought, “This is just cruel.” I’m curious since you thought it was a genuine act at the beginning — what did you think of Evelyn seeming a bit upset at having to make her own cake?

Fikri: Okay I should first say that by this point in the film it was no longer clear what was play and what was their raw relationship, because the film was taking a more surreal turn away from the hyper-realism of e.g. Cynthia (I JUST TYPED BIRGITTE) practicing her lines, Evelyn tapping on the window, etc.

Rushaa: That’s true.

Fikri: Or, for that matter, the clearly genuine passive-aggressiveness that lay beneath their argument about Cynthia’s back hurting. So I wasn’t even clear on whether the scene where Cynthia accused Evelyn of cheating was real or roleplay, and by the time the birthday scene rolled around I was distinctly uncomfortable but not particularly more than how I was in the beginning.

But similarly, the point when she asks her to lie down was when I stopped believing it was probably play. And when Evelyn uses her safeword and Cynthia doesn’t stop, that crossed the line for me. I tried to rationalise it in so many ways, especially because the film had been making us sympathetic to Cynthia up till that point. (Aye, that this was my first reaction troubles me a bit, but…) It was clear that she was really in a bad place, and I even stretched it as far as thinking that maybe Evelyn had a different safe word for this kind of play than with the trunk… but still, that’s a really fucked up response even to a really fucked up situation.

And again because the film was more surreal at this point, they didn’t explicitly deal with it in the way that they did the earlier scenes. This is when they started going into metaphor land with the bugs and the skeleton and the woods. I’m not sure it ever got resolved for me. Maybe it just wasn’t. Maybe what Cynthia did was actually just a not-okay, unforgivable thing.

Rushaa: It was such an awful moment. I think it was the casual way Cynthia then said, “If only piamente (?) could make all our troubles go away” that twisted the knife. She violated a boundary and then went, “Life’s shit, deal with it.” I didn’t like the fact that they never really dealt with it again either.

Fikri: (Pinaster, maybe? I actually first heard it as “be nasty” and thought it was Evelyn asking for Cynthia to step up her game in the middle of the night and I was like YO LET HER SLEEP.)

Rushaa: (Ah it’s pinastri, I’m guessing related to Sphinx pinastri which is a moth. I thought Cynthia had a different domme name to help her get in character so I only realised it was a safeword after Cynthia violated it.)

Fikri: It was in one of Evelyn’s cards but I’m not sure if that appeared before or after. I think after? It was in the scene where the card is burning.

Rushaa: I think that was after? Time is all over the place in that film.

Fikri: Yeah, and it does a real good job of making you doubt what you know.

Rushaa: But okay, back to the safeword situation: as far as I could tell they seemed to start shifting back to normal after that without any explicit discussion.

Fikri: Yes, though with more breaks in character/routine and more reassurances, but still. It wasn’t enough for me.

Rushaa: Also can I just say that cinemas can be lovely but they can also be the worst — at my screening the two hetero couples on a double date near the back laughed at the safeword violation. The laughter was not nervous.

Fikri: What? Ngh. My audience was definitely silent.

Rushaa: I like your audience better.

Fikri: I don’t think the film left it completely unaddressed, to be fair. I think it didn’t just show the cracks but also started showing how to mend them, and I didn’t get the impression that it was forgiving Cynthia’s behaviour. Also, it didn’t cast it as an issue with BDSM power dynamics in themselves but rather more universal problems with relationships and shitty communication.

Rushaa: I definitely agree with that — the issue wasn’t presented as “kink is evil” but about communication.

Fikri: Though of course we also need to acknowledge that kink can take those ordinary problems and make them far more dangerous than they otherwise would be.

Rushaa: Definitely. I think in a way it’s a strong contrast with the trunk scene. There Cynthia is double-checking and is still very nervous about leaving Evelyn. On the birthday she abuses that power. I was worrying the whole film that something awful would happen with the trunk, and then it gave me something entirely different to be hurt by.

Fikri: Yeah, overall I am def not 100% okay with that scene. There’s probably something to be said about how Cynthia’s abuse of her power came in a clear moment, whereas Evelyn’s (and Evelyn DID also do not-okay things) was more gradually revealed. It stretches the way we think about consent and how it’s negotiated in non-verbal terms, and the dangers of assuming that power dynamics are fixed.

Rushaa: Evelyn certainly had a problem with either not noticing, or in some places willfully ignoring what Cynthia was going through. It’s unfortunately realistic in its showcase of problems as well. She constantly flipped the issues back on Cynthia. She should be more domineering, she should know that she wants to be in the trunk, she should schedule things to her desires.

Fikri: Yep. When Evelyn said “I wasn’t getting what I needed here,” that’s classic abuser language too, but the kind that’s normalised as romance or desire. I don’t want to equate what Evelyn did wrong with what Cynthia did, because I don’t think that’s possible and it’s also counterproductive… just that I think the film makes us think in less straightforward terms about power and consent.

Rushaa: Agreed that they aren’t the same thing.

Fikri: I was also never really sure that Cynthia was into it, and that got troubling for me after a while. Because only Evelyn was constructing the fantasies and I got that Cynthia loved Evelyn, for sure, but I’m not sure I got that Cynthia actually wanted to be a domme beyond that.

Rushaa: The one moment when they actually communicated as they should have been doing all along was when Cynthia was in tears apologising for ruining the scene and Evelyn just said it was okay and then they got rid of the trunk. At the very end! I got the impression that they were trying to compromise, so Evelyn slept in the bed but sometimes they still roleplayed, but it was an issue that Cynthia really wasn’t into it. LET HER DOMME IN PJ’S.

Fikri: Yeah. I fully accept that it can be a beautiful, loving thing to play to your partner’s desires even if they’re not necessarily aligned with your own, which was cute and sweet in the beginning, but then… it got dark. As we’ve discussed.

Rushaa: I did feel a bit more assured at the end as I think initially Cynthia was worried about Evelyn going so once she realised that Evelyn would stay regardless it became less about her own fears. Likewise I think Evelyn realised she was going too far.

Fikri: Okay wait but it’s definitely fucked up to have to play to a partner’s desires because you think they’ll leave you otherwise. That’s what was uncomfortable for me.

Rushaa: I guess this comes back to what we were saying about consent and communication, especially non-verbal. That’s what made my heart break for Cynthia up until the birthday scene. Evelyn had all this power and was insisting on doing a scene even after Cynthia hurt her back.

Fikri: Mm, yes. Up till that point the roleplay power dynamics between them were perfect but the power that Evelyn had outside of play was unsettling.

Rushaa: The good thing is that all of these issues were actually framed as issues by the film.

Fikri: AH there was also another significant violation of consent that wasn’t the two of them. THE CARPENTER. Saying that one of the neighbours had ordered a bed like that?

Rushaa: I was just about to mention that!

Fikri: And then the fatphobic joke (I was like NO CYNTHIA MY HEART).

Rushaa: I thought that she would tell them she couldn’t say, but no.

Fikri: Again, not to equate this to the fucked up shit Cynthia/Evelyn did, but that was REALLY NOT OKAY. It was probably my least favourite part of the film because it wasn’t even not-okay in a complex way that makes you think, it was just not-okay in a really gross and unnecessary way.

Rushaa: I kinda wish that they then established that the reason they don’t get the bed is because the carpenter violated privacy, rather than Evelyn needs to have something NOW. It reminds me too much of some of the people I know who go round and occasionally out people (both as queer or sometimes into kink) because they just don’t think. I hate seeing that in films being unaddressed, and then the fatphobia as the icing on the shitcake.

Fikri: Yeah, and it was clearly just meant as a cheap joke and nothing else.

Rushaa: Also the fact that the lead-in to the joke was premised on the assumption that fat people can’t be into kink.

Fikri: Okay, we sound overwhelmingly negative about the film now but that’s really not all it left us with. We judge because we love. Maybe we could talk a bit more about the sex in the film? I mentioned in the spoiler-free zone that it’s an incredibly sexy film with very little actual sex going on.

Rushaa: There were brief snippets here and there, and then that one scene where Cynthia fails at talking dirty.

Fikri: YES that might be my favourite scene in the history of ever. I also live for that scene of Cynthia in the chair with Evelyn going down on her, because again, SBK. (Okay I’m just about old enough now that sexual attraction to fictional characters played by real actresses seems at least a little wrong, but…)

Rushaa: I’m hoping there’s a gif of that on the internet.

Fikri: And drinking water! “Drinking water.” The “try turning the tap on” scene — again not things I ever thought I’d be enamoured by.

Rushaa: I liked the fact that you could hear in my cinema as each individual person clicked what the water drinking was connected with as the scene went on. In the tap scene I’ll be honest — I thought for a second that it was something else until Evelyn said that. So again, personal relief arrives with pee.

Fikri: Ha, okay. I think it’s fair to say that the film captures sex, love, lust and affection all at the same time and really well, which is really impressive. I usually really hate artsy scenes like (in my opinion) unnecessary close-ups but Strickland definitely knew how to build sexual tension. Again: soap bubbles.

Rushaa: I looked up the “Duke of Burgundy” butterfly and apparently it got its name because it can be mistaken for being part of a different butterfly family but it’s not. I’m guessing the link is Cynthia trying to be super domme but not actually being a super domme in a particular sense.

Fikri: I’m really glad they didn’t incorporate the bugs into the sex stuff though. I was really afraid they would. I would probably have cried if they did. I’m not even particularly bugphobic I think that just would have been too much for me.

Rushaa: The dream sequence was too much for me. I couldn’t tell what was going on. I looked around and everyone else was also equally puzzled (except one of the two loner guys who had clearly been looking for something more pornographic and just looked sad). I was also confused by the two creepy mannequins just sitting at the back of the lecture theatre. Why were they there? Who knows?

Fikri: I’M GLAD I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO NOTICED IT. For a while I was waiting for an explanation for that, but when I realised it wasn’t coming, I think I rationalised it as contributing to the… ethereal? feel of the film? Because while it’s firmly realistic in some ways it’s also set up in an ambiguous location in an ambiguous time and the characters don’t have much context outside of their relationship with each other. I figure all of this was meant to build up to the dream sequence you mentioned. What did you feel about it?

Rushaa: It felt unnecessarily French. (I joke.)

Fikri: I AGREE THOUGH.

Rushaa: It was very much women in darkness running around with moths so whilst it was visually interesting I understood none of it. Also did the dream start in Cynthia’s vulva or earlier? Because that was confusing.

Fikri: …it started in her crotch, yes. That was probably the only point in the film where I was like “okay now THIS is unnecessarily artsy” but I am okay with people disagreeing with me on this, because I know I have plebeian tastes.

Rushaa: Eh, I live with a French person and even she would probably have made a weird face.

Fikri: I know it was their attempt at resolution after the safeword scene and maybe the reason I feel it wasn’t satisfactorily done was because I AM NOT REASSURED BY METAPHORS. SKELETONS DO NOT WORK FOR ME. But maybe they work for other people, idk.

Rushaa: I don’t know if they work for anyone except critics and directors. Butterflies all over my screen do not make a point, especially when I don’t know who was dreaming. When the sides started closing in I was worried that was the end of the film. Thankfully it was not.

Fikri: Me too! I was ready to be like fuck these artsy folks what was that?! But the actual ending was a lot better, yes.

Rushaa: Although I wasn’t sure if it was merely mirroring the beginning or was the beginning.

Fikri: Good point. I think we’ve just about covered it now. Oh also, the cat obvs. The cat was great.

Rushaa: Ha, I saw that and thought “NO, not more lesbians with a cat.” I keep being the only one not enamored with cats.

Fikri: SHHH. Shh you.

Rushaa: Am I a bad queer? Are we all witches and I didn’t get the memo?

Fikri: Yes.

Rushaa: I am not discussing the cat with you.

Fikri: Fine.

Pages: 1 2 See entire article on one page

Fikri has written 62 articles for us.

39 Comments

  1. I had the privilege of seeing this film on opening night in Vancouver. It was not what I expected, there is such a sadness in the understory of how the woman dominating her partner feels, you see it and maybe you’ve felt it and you don’t know exactly how to convey those feelings of insecurity so you hide them. I felt such similarity in my own life to both of their situations, it’s such a beautiful film. Go see it if you can.

  2. Oh GADS I cannot wait to see this film. I have spent the last 48 hours since I learned of its existence (from a straight man who hasn’t even seen Borgen: why?) trying to keep myself from running round in circles like a headless chicken with my arms flung towards the heavens. I am SO EXCITED. I mean, obviously my interest was piqued by the premise, but when I worked out it was BIRGITTE? AS A LESBIAN DOMME? I just…. I don’t even understand why life is being so kind to me.

    Anyway, I g2g google-image SBK some more now, bye bye.

      • Also I am incredibly happy that this review is up and people are reading it, because seriously every queer woman should have know about this film from the moment it was put in production. And now we can support it in the cinema and push for the one film sequel I probably won’t have a problem with.

        • YES THEY SHOULD, THEY REALLY SHOULD. The thought of how close I came to not knowing about this during its cinematic run makes me tremble with fear (and also erotic excitement because I’m still thinking about Birgitte). One of us should probs sort out light aircraft hire, print out a load of posters (and/or this article) and carry out some kind of propaganda drop over certain relevant enclaves.

  3. I don’t know if the thought was originally with the filmmakers when they chose the insect motif, but I thought it might be a riff on Foucault’s discussion of the “entomology” of homosexuals, in his “History of Sexuality.” And this film was somehow about a particular “subspecies” of kinky lesbians…

    As someone who has explored both submissive and dominant relationships, I found this film to be one of the more honest depictions of the raw emotional energy you can experience, with all the missteps, love, hurt, anger, confusion, eroticism, vulnerability, and passion acted out in this tiny setting. I found Cynthia’s violation of Evelyn’s safeword to be troubling, but equally troubling (to me) was Evelyn’s emotional abuse of Cynthia, and the underlying lack of honest communication in their dynamic.

    It’s a movie almost certain to stir up strong emotions, and I highly recommend it.

  4. ‘The Duke of Burgundy has an all-women cast but in a “there are no men but it’s still good!!” ‘

    Uhhh what the hell, I think it should always and forever be “there are no men which makes it so good”.

    One of my friends excitedly told me about this movie, so I’ll stick to Page 1 in case I want to see the movie without spoilers.

  5. i feel like this movie is the kind of movie i would have a weird dream about and then in the morning laugh like hahahahah like they’d ever make a movie SO relevant to my interests LOL
    – bdsm
    – lesbians
    – no men
    – may / december romance

    INTO IT

  6. Ugh; why does there need to be a bug theme?! 🙁 I was getting more and more excited reading this article and really wanting to see it because BDSM lesbians! but then I got to the bug part. I’m terrified of them 🙁 bummer.

      • Could you tell me exactly what type of bugs are shown? Im mostly terrified about roaches type of bugs; butterflies are ok. and do they suddenly jump at you in the screen or they’re shown in a less scary way. I’m still considering watching it. I’m really into power play and haven’t heard of a movie featuring it with female characters before. Maybe there are just a couple scenes that I should skip and the rest would be ok?

        • I answered this question below, but in slightly more detail: there are a fair number of close-ups but most of the bugs are dead and in display cases. (Tbh I was more squicked by the pins going through the dead bugs than the bugs themselves, but I’m scared of needles, not bugs.) At one point moths swarm the screen but it’s also at this point that the film is the most abstract/dark, and it won’t be the only reason that you’ll feel creeped out but that’s the point! I think you could totally just close your eyes during a few scenes.

          • ok, thanks a lot. Sounds like the moths are what would creep me out the most. I think Ill just close my eyes when it gets too much and should still be ok to watch rest of film. I can’t find it online though, so let me know if you find a link. 🙂

  7. Not into classical D/s – i mean i could do it with a mortal submissive but my heart isn’t into it, i find Sith Rule of Two with a future equal (my gf is my now-equal) more fulfilling.

    But thank you so much for saying this – i so agree about the fucking babies and accidents. Screw that trend.

    • No to all of those! For most part it’s moths, butterflies and crickets (though you don’t really see the crickets, just hear them) in display cases and shown in detail during bug conference presentations. The creepiest bug scene was this one time they started flooding the screen/SBK’s face with moths because aesthetics, or something.

  8. From SPOILER section:

    I just wanted to address this portion: “Rushaa: … at my screening the two hetero couples on a double date near the back laughed at the safeword violation. The laughter was not nervous. Fikri: What? Ngh. My audience was definitely silent. Rushaa: I like your audience better.”

    a. As you pointed out, a lot of people misheard the safeword “pinastri” as “be nasty,” a statement egging Cynthia on. I was one of those people, and I’m only realizing this after the movie. I’m also kinky, and I, along with many other kinksters, actually explicitly get off on the more blurry, real-feeling kink. Without the realization that she was safewording, I actually found the cake scene pretty unbearably hot. It’s very possible that I smiled a bit in identification with Evelyn’s feelings as I was representing them in my head. I don’t think that you need to read “those hetero couples” as laughing at consent violations. It seems pretty likely that they were in the same position I was, and I think a bit more generosity in your interpretation there is in order.

    b. I’m bi and I saw the movie with my heteroflexible boyfriend. I realize that we’re a heterosexual pairing relative to each other, and that “hetero” in that sense can be simply descriptive, but it feels very dismissive in the context in which it was used. I love my boyfriend, and I would love to be able to go do things with him without constantly running into the implicit assumption that I’m not LGBT (I’m a mysterious “other”) and that consequently the way I think and act can simply be dismissed because “of course I wouldn’t get it.”

    This is a little nit-picky I realize, but it really was a strange and unpleasant experience to be reading an interesting and thoughtful article and then get sort of a personal-feeling emotional stab in the middle of it. But overall, I did really get a lot out of reading the article, and I hope to read more from you guys!

    • Hi! Thank you for the comment on the piece – I’m really glad you generally enjoyed it and I wanted to try and address your points properly since it’s at least partially about elaboration (and my lack there of):

      a) Based on what was written in the review I can see that it seems like I’ve rushed a bit to an instinctive judgement, but I still believe that they were laughing at the consent violations and I can offer you the context as to why I think that. So though I would normally be a bit more generous about my interpretations of others intentions (or at least I would like to believe), this group of four were not only the the people who talk during films about very inane stuff, but they were also quite judgemental at the beginning of the roleplay. That eased off once they got used to it, but as a collective they did seem to take a strong dislike to Evelyn and really relish any scene where she was genuinely uncomfortable. During the cake-making scene they were making comments about “finally, revenge” and “serves her right” (I guess they read it from the beginning like me that Cynthia was being passive-aggressive). The laughter from them came about only after Cynthia says “if only pinastri could make all our troubles stop”, which I reckon a least hints to it being a safeword, and combined with their behaviour throughout the scene and the film in general led me to I assume that it was the callousness they enjoyed.

      b) With regards to your second point, though it wasn’t meant to be dismissive, more descriptive, I agree with you that it certainly comes across that way because they are talked about in a negative light. I also agree that I was definitely making an unfounded assumption that they weren’t LGBT. I’d actually forgotten I’d written “hetero-couples” here, so it’s interesting that you’ve brought my attention to it as over the last few days I’ve been independently considering how I keep labelling what appear to be stereotypical pairings of strangers as “straight” people, helping to contribute to a sort of personal bisexual erasure despite my own sexuality certainly not being monosexual. I can only apologise because I can’t imagine reading something and then suddenly feeling like you’ve been targeted, and it’s something I will keep tabs on in the future.

      Anyway I’m glad you saw and enjoyed the film and thank you again for your points – I genuinely appreciate them because it helps me to be better at writing and just better in general!

      • Ah that makes sense. There definitely are a lot of people who do find consent violation funny, and especially with the extra context I can see reading them that way.

        Anyway, thank you for the nice reply! I think I’m going to have to watch it again knowing that “pinastri” is the safeword. I can see it being alluded to in hindsight, but I think I just really wanted her to be enjoying those things because I found them hot. I think it’ll be a pretty different movie on a second watch!

  9. I finally saw this, and loved it even more than I’d hoped. A properly beautiful looking film (beautiful sounding, too – all those creaking floorboards), brilliantly performed, and which slowly absorbed you into it before revealing its warmth and humour (and then melancholy) by degrees. And it means that I finally got to read page 2 of this! And comment on it!

    HERE BE SPOILERZ:

    This isn’t my world, so this is from a layman’s perspective – but I reckon that’s at least a little valid (I recall Peter Strickland saying that he didn’t really research dom-sub relationships before writing this film, and that he was just writing it from a human-relationships perspective). Alternatively you can laugh heartily at me for how little I understand. But, either way, I have SO MANY THINGS TO SAY!

    I can’t say I reacted quite as strongly to Cynthia’s violation of the safeword as you guys did. For me, it was the first time that Evelyn wasn’t fully in control and literally scripting their entire relationship, which had left zero space for them to just… be human people together, with (Cynthia’s) human needs for affection and (Cynthia’s) human feelz (and human pyjamas). I didn’t read it as much of an abuse of power because Cynthia really never had any; I read it as Cynthia taking the power away from Evelyn for the first time, to put them on the same level; each feeling heartache and hurt and dissatisfaction, needs unmet. Until then, Evelyn had escaped feeling any of that. Cynthia finally made her lie there and feel it, like we all eventually have to when our relationships are operating on the wrong plane. Cynthia was dismantling that dynamic to put them on the same page together, even though it may have appeared as something else (and something worse) because of what was actually happening in that scene. And yeah, it was a shitty passive-aggressive thing to do, but sometimes people do those things too.

    I understand how it can be problematic that ignoring a safeword wasn’t addressed as being a major no-no, but… I just feel like this wasn’t as violating (in the actual context of the scene) as it might be in theory since Cynthia didn’t have any of the power in the first place? Feel free to educate me otherwise.

    (I also think there might be something in it that he just wasn’t talking down to his audience, maybe? Like, not everything needs to be explicitly stated as being Right or Wrong (with Good or Bad consequences), because the audience kind of know it for themselves.)

    ALSO ALSO! I disagree a bit with your take on the carpenter and the breach of privacy. I thought the entire middle act of the film was this brilliant comic absurdism (beginning with the mannequins in the lecture theatre), and I think part of the laugh there was that there was no way in hell she’d actually tell them who ordered the bed if this weren’t a parallel Peter Strickland universe. The same way there’s no way in hell a row of seats would be taken up by be-wigged, be-cardiganed mannequins. (And – fat kid here – I didn’t think the fat joke was played for cheap laughs; it was a kind of sweet, humanising moment in the first (and only) proper interaction we saw them have with anybody else. It was just a slightly naughty giggle they were sharing, no? I dunno, I’m usually happy to be offended by fat jokes, but I was giggling along with the characters here, and also be-stilling my heart at SBK’s nose-wrinkled laughter, d’awww. Also, HOW GOOD WAS SHE!)

    All up, I loved this film, thought it was a beautiful, intelligent bit of filmmaking, and rate it five human toilets out of five.

    (Nice article, too.)

  10. Actually, as someone who is into kink (and bugs! yay!) I was really disappointed and frequently horrified by this movie. Evelyn’s emotional abuse to Cynthia and her overall selfishness, disregard for Cynthia’s comfort & consent, and emotional manipulation (the whole “I cheated on you because you weren’t doing a good enough job being a domme” thing was terrible). Every time Cynthia shows her own vulnerabilities, whether that’s the emotional vulnerability (“I love you” or “can you breathe in the trunk?”) or the physical vulnerability of being visibly in pain and temporarily disabled after hurting her back, Evelyn reacts with scorn. In one particularly upsetting scene, Evelyn refuses to rub Cynthia’s back because she isn’t wearing a sexy outfit–outfits that Cynthia has said are uncomfortable for her and difficult to get into even when she’s feeling well.

    Many people here have commented on the scene when Evelyn’s safeword is ignored. The lack of follow-up to this scene makes it unclear whether it was an intense moment of Cynthia getting into the role or a horrifying violation of boundaries. Because of that lack of follow-up, along with their dysfunctional relationship outside of kink at that point, I see little reason to give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s also worth noting that my partner and I saw this film on a college campus, with a brief discussion about BDSM and safety done by the campus sex education org beforehand. This discussion really only focused on safewords as consent in kink (NOT enough), and then to have that followed by a film that diminishes and then ignores safewords (Evelyn’s urgent use of the safeword for just a mosquito bite, followed by the cake scene) was really misleading. There were a lot of people who either weren’t kinksters or very new to it in that audience, and I think that combination of “safewords are your only tool, now let’s watch this great example of a healhty bdsm relationship in a movie!” with “oh wait this is actually super unhealthy and abusive and the safeword gets ignored but that’s okay somehow” was really toxic.

    It’s also worth noting that kink is ultimately shown in the film to be a problem for their relationship, and the movie ends with them severely backing off of the kink. They do imply that they continue with the occasional scene, but since we don’t see how this is negotiated differently from previous scenes (is Cynthia actually okay with it now? does Evelyn stop being a demanding and self-centered abuser?) it becomes less “this is what didn’t work and this is what does” and more “kink will ruin everything if you take it too far! Keep in reined in, folks!” which ultimately isn’t a very useful message.

    I’m disappointed this movie is being held up as an example of a good representation of kink. While aesthetically pleasing, Evelyn and Cynthia’s relationship is deeply unhealthy and abusive. I’m also seeing a lot of claims that it’s a lesbian Secretary, which in the context of this breakdown of Secretary and it’s problems, I would be more inclined to agree with.

    Holding this up as anything other than a slight improvement over 50 Shades in terms of consent and healthy relationships is deeply misleading and ultimately hurtful to the BDSM community. I sincerely hope that more movies come out that do portray sexy, healthy kink so we actually do have examples to point to when we say “now THAT’S kink done well!” in film. I don’t think we have that yet.

    • I watched this movie because of this article and it was nothing like how it was sold to us. This is NOT the lesbian secretary, this is not a better representation of BDSM than 50 shades, I am sorry. In secretary we see how the sub fights for her pleasure, the guilt of the dom, the struggle with his conscience and how it all ends in a very happy and healthy place for both of them. This movie is not about BDSM, it is **PLEASE DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS** about a dysfunctional abusive relationship. It shows that the sub litteraly uses her partner as an object to give her pleasure and nothing more. On the other hand Cynthia (the domme) seems to be sufficating in her role, doing it only to please her girlfriend and getting zero pleasure from it. If she did enjoy it in the past, it is not shown. Cynthia endures and endures until she bursts out and violates a safeword, which is what usually happens when we do not externalize our problems in a relationship. We burst out. The two ladies were a bad match. Evelyn needed a domme who actually enjoys being a domme and Cynthia needed a more vanilla partner, or a partner who knows when to switch the role off. However, I did not think this was a bad movie. I actually think it’s kind of brilliant because it is honest (and of course beautiful). These one-sided relationships are very common. So, this is a movie about relationships gone wrong, aging, dealing with expectations and reality, not about BDSM.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.