Monday, January 23, 2012


Shame - ***1/2

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Starring:  Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie

Review:  Sex is a taboo topic in America.  It makes most people uncomfortable, lots of people can't express themselves through it, and it causes lots of individual’s issues that affect them greatly in their lives. All of the above are present in this film.

Brandon (Fassbender) is a man who lives his life in private.  He has a good job and has attained at least some semblance of success at a nameless company in New York.  He has a nice apartment with a great view of the city.  Most of his nights are spent alone trying to find the right method for him to gratify himself sexually.  Pornography, prostitutes, and many other methods are explored.  Nothing seems to quite quell Brandon's desire for more than a few fleeting minutes.

The deeper and deeper Brandon goes into his sexual prison, the more and more disconnected he becomes from the rest of his life.  He finds that the rest of his life gives him less and less satisfaction as a result, which only drives him deeper into his obsession.

There is no intimacy in Brandon's life, and he seemingly prefers it that way.  He keeps up the facade of a normal relationship with his boss and workmates, but never really lets them in.  He is content with letting them make him out to be one of their ilk.  In reality, he is much different from them.

On the surface, hitting on women or taking them home may seem like a normal occurrence, an attempt to either have one night of meaningless sex, or possibly find someone to start a relationship with.  For Brandon, it’s not this at all.  It’s a means to an end.  Like a drug addict employing whatever means necessary to get his next score, Brandon doesn’t care what it takes to gratify his need.

In an alleyway, over the internet, in his bedroom, in the car, in a basement, doesn’t matter.  However his thirst can be quenched he will quench it.  It debilitates Brandon in more ways than one.  Not only does he have to spend the time and energy finding his next “fix,” but it makes it harder for him to find solace in other people.

When in a situation where he actually feels intimacy, Brandon cannot perform.  Sex and intimacy are two completely different horizons for this man.  Those two worlds cannot be reconciled.  He has spent so much of his days seeking out sex only for gratification and placing it in its own silo, that he can’t meld the two together.

His sexual escapades have become so disconnected from reality, that it’s a place he goes to escape.  Problems in his personal life or work life lead him to only have a stronger urge.  He can’t stop himself and there is only one release.

Eventually, after his sister unexpectedly starts to live with him, these problems come to the forefront.  He slowly starts to realize that he feels no connection towards his sister.  She is not a sexual presence to him and he has become so detached at this point he feels no connection to her.

This only furthers his dissonance, while reminding him of his lack of connection to the world around him.  With these two worlds colliding, that he’s worked so hard to keep separate, Brandon is driven to seek refuge the only way he knows how – sex. 

In an attempt to keeps his worlds separate Brandon does things that he’s not proud of and will eventually regret.  Yet he knows he can’t stop himself.  He has surrounded himself in a living prison.  He walks around his daily life carrying a sack of bricks with him wherever he goes.  He knows not how to break this cycle and it will most likely be something drastic that has to do it.

‘Shame’ could have just as easily been called guilt as the movie deals equally with the acts as well as how they affect Brandon.  It’s a movie that will take the audience to uncomfortable places.  Nothing in this movie feels normal.  For a movie completely about sex, it’s entirely unsexy in an unsettling way that makes it nearly brilliant.

Fassbender gives a phenomenally self-contained, tortured performance.  His battles with his sister (Mulligan) are unrelenting and painful to watch.  There are graphic sex scenes in this film and Fassbender makes the audience feel just as uncomfortable as he looks.  We are at once feeling sorry for him and feeling the shame he feels on a daily basis.

This is a movie that is not for everyone.  It’s dark, brooding, uncomfortable, and unapologetic.  One should know what they are getting into when walking into this movie and be prepared.  For those that are, this is worth your time, if only for Fassbender’s performance alone.

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