Explainers

Netflix’s Secret Obsession, Explained

July 18, 2019
14 min read

Love is as strong a motivator as complicated a feeling it is. Everyone perceives it in a different manner, and while most people accept that it should be mutual for a relationship to blossom, there is another bunch that believes differently. This singular perspective on the matter allows them to think that their form of love is the purest and the only one that should be. They don’t care whether the other party reciprocates their feelings, they don’t believe that the other person might actually like someone else. And these obsessive, psychotic admirers flip out when the object (because that’s how they see the other person) of their affection commits to someone else. ‘Secret Obsession’ follows the story of one such person. If you haven’t yet seen the film, head over to Netflix.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Summary of the Plot

The film opens with a woman running for her life. She tries to hide, tries to run, but the killer is always a step ahead of her. In the end, while running away, she is hit by a car and lands in the hospital. On waking up, she finds a man calling himself her husband, but she doesn’t remember him. The thing is, Jennifer Williams (Brenda Song) has suffered memory loss has forgotten most things about her life. It might take some time for her to remember everything, but for now, she’ll have to take the word of “her husband”, Russell Williams (Mike Vogel) for it.

Russell turns out to be a caring and doting husband. He tells Jennifer everything about their past, he takes care of her, he helps her get well and is constantly by her side until she is fit to come home. Meanwhile, Detective Frank Page (Dennis Haysbert) is assigned to her case, to find out what really happened the night of the accident. While Russell continues to be loving and considerate, Jennifer starts to feel something off about the whole scenario.

What Happened That Night?

Before going into the depths of the crazy (and I don’t mean it in a good way) love that Ryan Gaerity had for Jennifer, let’s begin with the night that this horrible chain of events began. Russell and Jennifer worked together and they fell in love. Unbeknownst to her, there was someone else who was also in love with Jennifer. The couple never sensed any dangerous presence around themselves and carried on with their usual business. Their relationship took off, and eventually, they got married.

The night of the wedding, after all the guests had left and Jennifer and Russell were back home, someone broke into their house. This hooded man killed Russell and attempted to murder Jennifer too. But somehow, she got away and ran out into the rain. This is where the events in the film pick up. She also discovered that the man who attacked them was Ryan, but because she didn’t know about his interest in her, she couldn’t understand why he was doing it. Before he could kill her too, she got hit by a car and was taken to the hospital.

Now, Ryan knew that he couldn’t do anything. For now. So, he decides to go back and cover up the murder that he had already committed. He stuffs Russell dead body in his white pick-up truck, heads over to the hospital to find out if Jennifer is still alive and identifies himself as her husband. Considering the frenzy at the hospital, it doesn’t turn out to be such a difficult task for him. His first thought is to find some alone time with Jennifer and kill her before she spills everything to the cops. But then, fate works in his favour. He discovers that she has lost her memory, which means she remembers neither the murder nor the wedding, not even her husband. This is an opportunity to start over, to finally have something he always wanted, and he jumps right at it.

Love and Obsession

The primary theme of the film is obsession, a fixation so strong that it leads a person to commit heinous crimes. And once that spree begins, there is no going back. Ryan represents that maniac lover that some people, especially women, might be familiar with. On the outside, he looks like just another normal person. But, in reality, he is a psychopath. (Yep, that’s the word!) To say that he has been in love with Jennifer wouldn’t be right.

From the looks of it, it seems like Ryan hadn’t even properly talked to her before he tried to kill her. He worked in the same office, but we can see a distance between them, which is also visible in the pictures where everyone is in a close physical space while Ryan stands at a distance. He likes Jennifer, he is taken with her. But he hasn’t made a conscious effort of going up to her, and try to actually know her. Yet somehow, he seems to know everything about her, from the flowers she likes to the freshly squeezed orange juice she prefers in the morning. These are intimate details. If her husband or her close friends know about it, it makes sense. But for a guy who doesn’t seem to be anything more than an office acquaintance, there is one thing that we can say. He has been stalking her. If not actively (as in physically), then at least through social media, which is where you can find most of the information about anyone you want to know about these days.

But liking someone from a distance and checking out their social media profiles isn’t a bad thing, right? As long as it doesn’t start affecting other people, some people might find it a fair thing, if not a morally grey area, at least. Ryan must have thought about talking to Jennifer, about properly befriending her and then making her fall in love with her. But he never had the confidence to do that. One of the reasons behind this could be that he was Jennifer’s junior. She has an office; he has a cabin! Maybe he works under her, or even if she belongs to a different department, the fact that she is her superior might have stopped him from making advances. He was just waiting for the right moment. Until it was taken away from him.

As long as Jennifer didn’t fall for someone else, as long as there was no competition, it was alright for Ryan to maintain his distance. He could take his time. But then, Russell came along. Jennifer took a liking to him and things moved forward pretty fast. Faster than Ryan had expected. One day, they are just talking to each other, and the next time Ryan looks at them, they are getting married. Not only did it make him jealous of the new guy, but he also felt dejected because Russell was taking away something that Ryan was “entitled to”. Yes, that’s what he thought about Jennifer.

Is Love Blind or Murderous?

While Jennifer was recovering at the hospital, he traced her parents and killed them. He took over Russell’s identity, photoshopped the pictures to make himself the part of Jennifer’s life and installed cameras in his house to keep an eye on her. All this effort that he was putting into, he thought increased his claim on her, even when he was completely destroying her life.

Call love blind or the lover neurotic, he thought that he had gone to such great lengths for her and now, she owed it to him to love him back. She should be indebted to him because he took care of her, even though he was the one to put her in the hospital in the first place. She should be thankful to him for giving her a great house, even if he has killed her husband and stolen the life that she had built for herself. His irritation shows its face when he tries to get intimate with Jennifer, but she refuses to, mainly because a bad memory is triggered in her head. “I took care of you in the hospital and this is what I get for it!” Ryan is deluded with his form of love and doesn’t realise how destructive he is.

He represents all those people who fixate themselves on someone, telling themselves that they have fallen in love and use this excuse to justify whatever horrible actions they commit, often harming the people that they claim to be in love with. There is no shortage of such people in real life either. Even celebrities aren’t safe from such form of attack, leave alone the common people. While the film is purely fictional and is for entertainment purpose, the viewer must realise that people have actually been killed because someone loved them like Ryan loved Jennifer.

The Red Flags

Opportunity comes once in a lifetime, and you either capture it or let it slip. Ryan did not let it slip. He hadn’t planned on leaving Jennifer alive, but when he realised that he could actually have her all for himself, he quickly adapted to the situation. When she asked him about her family, he told her that they were dead. And then he killed them. He realised that her friends would want to get in touch with her too, so he took her to a secluded place, gave her a phone that she couldn’t use to call, and got rid of the Internet.

Ryan didn’t take much time to alienate her from the world. He gave the wrong address and wrong phone numbers at the hospital so that she wouldn’t receive any therapy. No therapy means no recollection of her past life, which means he can live with her at peace. While all these things were the right decisions on his part, they also made Jennifer wary of him. She is a smart woman and she can see that there is no one else for her to turn to, except him. Her parents are dead, and when she asks him about the people at the office and her friends trying to reach out to her, he shuts her off. She is at ease with him when he is nice to her, but there is a silent alarm at the back of her head, telling her that something is not right.

While she has doubts, she keeps them to herself. But all the red sirens start blaring when he allows his psycho behaviour to show. The night he pushes her to be intimate with him, she realises that she needs to find out the truth. She knows he is hiding things from her, especially when she sees him in the backyard in the middle of the night. And then there is the detail in the picture. In one of her wedding photos, Ryan photoshops himself on Russell’s face. But he forgets to pay attention to the mirror in the background, a detail that has captured Russell’s image, not his. Jennifer picks it up, and because she had already been bothered by a lot of other things, decides to look it up. She finally finds a way to sneak into his computer and the password turns out to be her name. This is another sign of Ryan’s obsession with her. She discovers the truth, but before she can escape, Ryan gets to her.

The Ending

The audience discovers Ryan’s secret long before Jennifer realises it, and hence, the only thing that we wait around is for her to find it out and start making efforts to escape. Once again, Jennifer proves to be smart and resourceful and comes very close to running away, her efforts only thwarted due to her leg injury. Yes, there are some things she could have handled better, but overall, it turns out in her favour.

From cleverly hiding the lighter to calming down her captor by making use of his “love” for her, she tries every trick in the book to make it easier for herself. Ryan binds her to the bedpost using a rope, but she is able to break free when he forgets a lighter on the bedside table. She uses it to burn out the rope and hides, only to attack him when he returns, and lock him in the room. Because there is no one around for a mile and with the only detective looking for her stuck in Ryan’s fridge, her only option is to run into the woods. She succeeds to a point, but it is her enemy’s territory. He knows these grounds better than her and is able to track her down. Now that he knows that she knows the truth and will never try to forget everything and be with him, he decides to end her life. Luckily, before he can pull the trigger, the detective stops him and engages in a tussle. Jennifer gets hold of the gun and shoots Ryan.

Three months later, we see that both — Jennifer and Detective Page — are moving forward with their life. Detective Page was a tortured soul. His 10-year-old daughter had gone missing years ago and was never found. Because he couldn’t bring her back, he invests himself in every case that he thinks might be more severe than anticipated by his colleagues. This is why he examines Jennifer’s case from every angle and is able to crack it too. His loss has not only made him more perceptive of details but has also left him unable to move on with his life. He hasn’t taken a holiday in a long time, which means he buries himself in his work rather than dealing with his grief. He still hasn’t come to terms with his loss, which we assume happened a long time ago because his cupboard is stacked with all the birthday gifts he bought for his daughter, over the years. He is old enough for retirement, but it looks like he might be stretching that too.

After Jennifer’s case, he finally lets go of this seclusion and puts himself out into the world. He gives away his daughter’s toys and moves to another place to “hit on divorced ladies”. He is finally dealing with his pain. Jennifer seems to be recovering too, but her loss is too much to absolve of so easily. She has lost her parents and her husband and will have to live with the trauma of her experience with Ryan for the rest of her life. Her road to recovery is long and hard, but she is on it and that’s all she can do right now.

Will There Be A Secret Obsession Sequel?

‘Secret Obsession’ neatly wraps up its story, which means there is really no scope for the story to move forward. But then, there is another factor that might tip the scales in favour of a sequel, and that is the popularity of the film. If the film succeeds in gaining enough audience, Netflix might find a way around the closed ending. However, it might be a bit hard for this film to get a green light on that. ‘Secret Obsession’ definitely has some thrilling content, but the execution is just too sloppy to do any good to it. The actors, especially Song and Vogel, have done their best with whatever they got, but they are not enough to be the saving grace of a film that lacks proper direction. However, it isn’t uncommon for the audience to like something that doesn’t fare well with the critics. Rest is up to Netflix.

Is Secret Obsession Based on a True Story?

Well, if you have seen the film, you can easily tell that it is completely a work of fiction. No, not because what happened to Jennifer cannot happen to anyone in real life. If anything, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and history is replete with examples of obsessive lovers committing heinous crimes in the name of love. You can tell Secret Obsession is not based on a true story because of how dramatized the key moments are. Also, there are just too many loopholes in the story for it to be anywhere close to reality.

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