SHAME Movie Review
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Shocking, unexpected, raw, explosive, would be some of the first things that come to mind. I for one did not expect director Steve McQueen and actors Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan would push the envelope that much but they did and they did it so well. Never have I seen the subjects of obsession and addiction depicted on screen in such a brutally honest manner. Fassbender’s going the distance for his character is evidence of his extraordinary skills as an actor.
Just like Requiem For A Dream was more or less a full feature anti drug public service announcement, SHAME too shows you how sex addiction can be a danger to self and those around you..
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a New Yorker who shuns intimacy with women but feeds his desires with a compulsive addiction to sex. When his wayward younger sister (Carey Mulligan) moves into his apartment stirring memories of their shared painful past, Brandon’s insular life spirals out of control.
The lead character Brandon, played by Michael Fassbender, is fascinating to me because here is a man who has everything, a very comfortable lifestyle, a well-paying job, a glamorous nightlife, in a city that never sleeps, he has no problem blending in and yet he struggles with making real human connection, something more meaningful.
The film, using New York city as its setting, wants to invite you to see how disconnected we can be despite our everyday interaction. That despite our best efforts, sometimes we’re so afraid to get hurt again, we’d settle for anything that numb the pain away.
The film doesn’t let you in completely on what it is that may have troubled Brandon, perhaps he came from a home that caused this great hole in his heart that he constantly has to fill with sex, which is why I used Requiem For A Dream as comparison because even though sex addiction may not be as openly or as comfortably discussed as drug addiction, it too can be self-destructive, SHAME essentially shows you a downward spiral of a man as Brandon’s addiction gets worse and worse and worse.
When Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan, comes along, suddenly Brandon’s routine gets interrupted. Sissy deals with issues of abandonment. Right from when she’s introduced, the film shows you this needy woman disguised in a strong independent personality.
Once again, the film doesn’t let you in on what happened in their past, but there seems to be an abandonment somewhere because Sissy feels Brandon tries to push her away, just like everyone in her life has done in the past. Perhaps in their childhood, Brandon left her when she needed him the most.
And Brandon has been living carefree all this time that when Sissy drops in uninvited and then makes herself at home, the notion of this entire responsibility comes across as nothing but a burden for Brandon. He sees that as more of a problem than his sex addiction is, which causes him to drown even deeper. Brandon turns to sex to stay away from the emotional connection that his sister so clearly desperately longs for.
SHAME is a character driven story that’s mostly told in the silence. Often times director McQueen focuses mostly on Fassbender’s tremendous on screen presence to take us through the journey into his troubled soul. I don’t know if I’d call the sex scenes hard to watch, I think how the scenes are done in terms of the visual style is artful and seductive. Yes, the scenes are no holds barred but I don’t think people should judge it as softcore or dismiss it as merely a movie about a sexaholic because this movie is about sibling dynamics and human relationships and how hard it is for some people to obtain such things that may be considered as something that comes natural for others.
That said, the fact that the film doesn’t provide enough background or backstory to Brandon and Sissy does serve a big challenge, and at times I wonder if the film necessarily has to be so raw about it, because I truly would like for many audiences to come see this movie but it does carry elements that may turn people off.
Michael Fassbender who hits stardom this past couple of years or so, gives an unbelievable, unadulterated performance. I haven’t seen Fassbender-McQueen’s previous collaboration, Hunger, but I can sense there’s a level of trust and comfort in their working relationships that allows Fassbender to bare all, not just literally, for his role. Fassbender is bold, daring and highly committed. There’s something about him that just draws you in.
My favorite Carrey Mulligan scene in this film would have to be when she sings a slowed down jazz rendition of the iconic song ‘New York New York’ which I think speaks true about the nature of this film and about Brandon.
As a lounge singer, Mulligan couldn’t be any more radiant.
As Brandon’s sister, Sissy, Mulligan understands that that this is a woman who either looks for love at the wrong places or looks for love, finds love, love uses her and then love runs away every single time. There’s fear, insecurity, pain, but also persistence in Mulligan’s performance.
You may need a cold shower after watching SHAME, but you won’t be able to easily shake it off, this is the kind of film that would stay with you for days.
GRADE: 4 out of 5
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