Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the socially awkward and emotionally sensitive youngest daughter of adysfunctional family, adjusts to normal life after having been hospitalized following an incident of dangerousself-harm. She learns to type, starts to date an acquaintance from high school named Peter, and begins to work as asecretaryfor an eccentric attorney, E. Edward Grey (James Spader), who hires her despite her stilted social skills and unprofessional appearance.Though at first Grey appears highly irritated at Lee'stypos and other innocuous mistakes, it soon becomes apparent that he is sexually aroused by her submissive behavior. After he confronts her about her self-injury addiction and commands that she never hurt herself again, the two embark on a BDSM relationship. Lee experiences a sexual - and personal - awakening, and she falls deeply in love. Edward, however, displays insecurity concerning his feelings for Lee, and he shows shame and disgust over his sexual habits. After a sexual encounter in his office, he fires Lee.Peter soon proposes to Lee, who reluctantly agrees to marry him. However, whilst trying on her wedding gown she leaves and runs to Edward's office where she declares her love for him. Edward, still uncertain about their relationship, tests Lee by commanding her to sit in his chair without moving her hands or feet until he returns. Lee eagerly complies. Days pass, as Peter, family members, and acquaintances individually visit Lee to alternately attempt to dissuade or encourage her. After three days, Edward returns to the office and takes Lee to his apartment where he bathes and nurtures her. The pair marry and happily continue their dominant/submissive relationship.