My Mistress is a 2014 Australian drama film. A teenage boy, struggling after the death of his father, forms a relationship with a lonely older woman who turns out to be a pro-dominatrix.
Despite the title and the promotional images, My Mistress is not primarily about a BDSM relationship. It belongs in the category of films about the male fantasy of being initiated in sex by an older attractive woman. E.g. Private Lessons (1981), Class (1983), My Tutor (1983), They’re Playing with Fire (1984), and even Weird Science (1985). Right away, we’re getting into some difficult areas about consent and double-standards about sex between younger men and older women. (For the record, the age of consent in most of Australia is 16.)
Charlie, a teenage boy, aimlessly bikes around his neighborhood. He sees an older woman with a French accent, Maggie, move into a house nearby. He returns home, only to find his father has committed suicide. Soon after that, he learns his mother has been having an affair.
Distraught, Charlie forms a casual relationship with Maggie. He bikes to her house and goes inside. He goes upstairs to find her playroom where she is in full dominatrix dress and in mid-session with a man. He runs off.
Charlie then insinuates himself into Maggie’s life by answering her help-wanted ad for yard work. He also lies about his age, saying he’s 18. She agrees on condition that he doesn’t come into the house or tell anyone what he sees there.
After working on Maggie’s property, Charlie has a dream or fantasy of him standing in front of the valkyrie painting, looking at Maggie in full dominatrix mode, toying with a bullwhip, facing away from him. He puts his hands around her corseted waist, kisses her. She turns around and drapes the whip around his neck, then tightens it. They kiss.
Charlie does spy on Maggie’s clients coming and going. When she invites him in for lunch, he asks her why they come to her. Her answer is reminiscent of Shirl in Personal Services.
Maggie: “They don’t want it. They need it.”
Charlie: “Yeah, but why?”
Maggie: “I make them forget.”
Charlie: “Forget what?”
Maggie: “Their private pain.”
Charlie: “And they pay you to do it.”
Maggie: “A lot.”
Charlie: “To smack them on the bottom.”
Maggie: “Spanking heals, sometimes.”
Maggie: “Is that what you want?”
Maggie: “Sounds like it.”
While Charlie has more fights with his mother, Maggie visits her young son at a playground and argues with one of her clients who is also a social worker, who also criticizes her choice of gift for her son.
When Maggie comes home, she finds Charlie has handcuffed himself in her dungeon, and refuses to give her the key. “Make me”, he says. Already angry, Maggie hits him with a crop. We don’t see the conclusion of this scene, but later Charlie’s mother sees the marks on his backs, which he explains as an accident.
Back at Maggie’s, Charlie offers himself to her. She initially refuses, then comes back and guides him through a formal tea. She lightly whacks him with a crop when he is impolite. Charlie laughs it off at first, then takes it more seriously.
Next time, Maggie puts Charlie in a coffin with a see-through hole and has him watch as she does a puppy-play scene with a man. Charlie can’t help laughing during this, which nearly spoils the scene.
After, Charlie and Maggie talk.
Charlie: “Am I going to be one of them when I get older?”
Maggie: “Could be worse. You might become a social worker.”
Maggie recruits Charlie as a driver and they go to watch her son, where they also talk about Charlie’s loss of his father.
Back home, Maggie, in full dominatrix gear, instructs Charlie on how to remove a leather harness from her. Like the other kink scenes, there’s no ending or resolution to this. It just ends abruptly.
Maggie’s mysterious client turns out to be her safety officer/social worker (presumably a violation of ethics), who is with her when she learns her custody of her son will be reinstated.
Maggie tells Charlie she can’t leave because she had a drug problem and it made her neglect her child so much he ran into traffic. This time, Charlie comforts her. To avoid her safety officer, he takes her back to his room, where they sleep together without sex.
The next scene is Maggie, in Mistress mode, telling Charlie how to put on her stockings, and saying he’ll be punished if he touches her. He does it anway, and she uses this as a pretext for a flogging scene. However, it escalates to the point at which he has to use the safeword she gave him. Maggie staggers back as if she came out of a trance.
Again, there’s no follow up conversation to this scene.
Charlie’s mother tells Maggie to leave him alone.
Maggie tries to tell Charlie to go away, but he has a tantrum, throwing junk into her pool until she lets him back in. They have their last tea, and Maggie says they will have sex, then never communicate again.
He says “Yes Mistress”
Maggie: “No. It’s between you and me now. No more ‘Mistress.’”
After this, Client X intervenes and gets into a fight with Charlie. Maggie stands on the staircase and cracks her bullwhip. She tells both of them to get out of her life.
Charlie reconciles with his mother, and he and Maggie have one more meeting.
Later, Charlie is out running with other students when he sees Maggie with her son at a playground.
Obviously, My Mistress is rife with consent and boundary violations. Much like Going Under, it doesn’t show an ideal BDSM relationship. Unlike Going Under, My Mistress isn’t interested in psychological realism, preferring to stay in the fantasy version of younger man/older woman pairings.
This extends to the film’s slightly dream-like atmosphere and the way the leads are shot. While we see Charlie in near-nudity, the camera’s gaze doesn’t linger on him. He’s not a “thing to be looked at” the way Maggie is portrayed as beautiful, with multiple shots focused on her feet and legs. Her accent and occasional use of French marks her as exotic and otherworldly, removed from Charlie’s bland suburb.
This makes the BDSM almost irrelevant. Charlie’s scenes with Maggie are oddly grafted on to the narrative, much as only one room of Maggie’s house is used for BDSM and it is isolated from all the other rooms. We don’t see any discussion before or after between them. The scenes just abruptly stop. Charlie participates out of a general interest in sex, typical for a teenage boy, but perhaps not these acts specifically. They are ultimately unsatisfying for him and for the film’s narrative. It’s the long-delayed intercourse that provides the climax to their relationship.
Charlie’s own sexuality is not clear. We don’t know if he dates or has any sexual experience before. It’s only in the final scene that we see Charlie having any interaction with people his own age, as he’s running in the woods with male and female fellow students. There are, however, many shots of Charlie looking at Maggie’s shoes and feet, suggesting the director has an eye for foot/shoe fetishism.
When Charlie talks with Maggie about her clients, he asks “Am I going to be one of them when I get older?” This question suggests that he does not share the same desires as her clients; if he did, he would not be confused about why they are paying for scenes with Maggie.
The simplest explanation would be that, still troubled by the loss of his father and the revelation of his mother’s affair, Charlie is desperate for any kind of connection with a parental figure, and he attaches to Maggie. When he offers to submit to her, he doesn’t really understand what that entails. He just wants Maggie to pay attention to him, and this appears to be the way to that.
Maggie is perhaps even more of a mystery than Charlie. We get only a vague story about how and why she works as a pro domme. Furthermore, if she’s this concerned about qualifying for custody of her son, why is she a sex worker? Is Client X blackmailing her? Can she not find some other work? If she’s not a citizen, how can she afford a house and work as a legal sex worker?
She wants someone to adore her without trying to control her. Her own guilt about her neglect of her child is a parallel motivation. Once again, a film about a pro-domme circles back to the role of caregiver.
Mainly what My Mistress did is remind me of other, better movies about femdom/malesub relationships. It’s reminiscent of Dogs don’t wear Pants, in that the protagonist is a man grieving the loss of a loved one who stumbles into a pro-domme’s dungeon. The scenes involving the mystery of Maggie’s son are echoes of Maitresse, and Emmanuelle Beart as Maggie bears a resemblance to Bulle Ogier as Ariane.
If you removed the BDSM scenes from My Mistress, you’d have just another film in the sub-genre of younger men being sexually initiated by older women.