Moody music and moody performances are at the core here - Michael Fassbinder is marvelous as a sex addict who has intimacy problems; as is his sister, as portrayed by Carey Mulligan. They are a contradiction - Mulligan is needy and ready for a tryst whenever and with whoever, regardless of the cost - just to feed the emptiness that is at the center of her; while Fassbinder is almost a sexual predator in the way he scans a woman, and yet, while desiring the sexual coupling, cannot commit to intimacy (the film does itself a disservice by never explaining why - as if he exists as an entity unto himself - a man with no past or future, living in the eternal now).
The performances are brave, as is the direction of co-writer and director Steve McQueen, although the floating "now" at the back third of the film remains for me a questionable choice, as are scenes that, quite simply seem to go on for too long (like the long jobbing scene). I was impressed however that McQueen allowed Mulligan the time to sing an entire version of a slow, jazzy New York, New York (and what amazing comping by the pianist!!) - that scene meant next to nothing, and yet was given the full treatment, an odd choice, but one that I enjoyed. All I can think is that this, like so much of the film, does nothing more than set the mood - it is intimate and distant at the same time, just like Fassbinder's character.
There is a fabulously acted scene between Fassbinder and a co-worker (kudos to Nichole Beharie as said co-worker) as they awkwardly and yet compellingly interact on a date while dining in a restaurant - constantly interrupted by an overbearing waiter, they still circle around each other as each starts to reveal small secrets of who they are. Fassbinder proclaims that relationships are overrated, which sets Beharie back a bit as she announces that she is separated and, from her actions, we believe her to be looking for some kind of bounce back romance - one that will recharge her self esteem. Fassbinder, who is looking for what used to be called "the zipless fuck" (ie, no strings attached emotionally or intellectually) takes a step back when he learns that Beharie is no longer "attached". That he later takes a chance is telling, and that said chance ends in disappointment all the more so. You just wonder what the heck happened to cause him to fear intimacy so much.
The ending doesn't answer these questions, but does a fair job of showing us a man trapped by his compulsion and, quite frankly, by life. He somehow cares for his sister, in spite of her being a "weight that drags me down". She complicates his compartmentalized life, and yet he is tethered to her, in spite of himself - just as he is tethered to his addiction - substituting the carnal for the real kind of interaction he can't seem to be able to handle. Creepy in many ways - and yet compelling - just as it seems that women can detect his desire and are somehow drawn to it; as the long subway scenes depict... again, both detached and yet intensely intimate, even with no words being said.
but the movie doesn't exactly reveal what the hack is troubling this dude who seems to be equipped with everything that makes a glossy yuppie bachelor in new york: young, handsome, indepedent, well-mannered (for most of the time) with a position which pays enough to have a decent apartment and as much paid sexual services as he wishes to have. his achilles' feet are only unravelled by his sister's suicidal attempts, sentimal whining for tender attetnion: "we're not bad people. we just come from bad roots"...so what is in that pandora's box? (it never tells you! so no climax, and it never really lets you CUM.aye. allegory of sex without pleasure? ha)
the title of this movei is SHAME, and the guy is really quite decent by heart enough to feel the shame as if his genital is sadistically rotting from over-exhaustions while his heart seeks that masochistic rapture/rupture saturated by shame.
At this point I could launch into a lecture about the perceived infantilism of both the MPAA and the movie-going public; if you want that argument presented coherently and without a hint of snobbery, go and watch This Film Is Not Yet Rated. All I will say is that it is a great... pity that so few people got to see Shame the first time round. Like Showgirls it is so unashamedly explicit that only the highest rating could have sufficed. But while Verhoeven's film has little between its ears other than Elizabeth Berkley's cleavage, this is a bold and powerful work which cements Steve McQueen as a director and Michael Fassbender as a truly great actor.
Being a film about sex which works hard to turn its audience off, the natural reference point for Shame would be Eyes Wide Shut. Both films have main characters who are urbane, middle-class and seemingly confident, and both Stanley Kubrick and Steve McQueen are exceptional visual craftsmen. In each case we are introduced to a glossy world surrounded on all sides by wealth and success, until an element is introduced which throws the central character's life off-course: in Kubrick's case, it is the wife confessing to adultery, in McQueen's, the arrival of the wayward sister.
If you wanted to stretch the comparison, you could make the argument that both films are about depicting a form of sexual jealousy. In Kubrick's case, he wanted to explore the destructive effect that jealousy and adultery can have on relationships, reducing sexual satisfaction down to something that is almost banal, to hammer home how self-defeating these desires can be. Shame, on the other hand, depicts jealousy more abstractly, with Brandon's longing for satisfaction not being borne out of revenge.
It is interesting to note that cinematic attitudes towards nymphomania are often the complete opposite to attitudes in wider Western culture. Films like Horrible Bosses depict female nymphomania as something humorous or even attractive, while in wider society female promiscuity and sexual confidence is frowned upon, to the point where the way that women dress is often used (wrongfully) to justify violence against them. Conversely, male promiscuity in society is almost something to boast about, and yet depictions of promiscuity on film are pretty negative outside of gross-out comedies.
While it does correspond to these wider trends, at least to some degree, there can be no denying the power of Shame in its depiction of sex addiction. The film is confident enough to avoid romanticising or excusing the lifestyle of its central character; while we are meant to envy Brandon's wealth or success, we are never expected to like him, let alone emulate him. Over the course of the film we see Brandon's lifestyle slowly overtaking the veil of ignorance that surrounds it. He goes from seeming in control to pure, visceral desperation until an emotional break pulls him back from the edge.
Brandon's addiction is characterised by what Sigmund Freud called a "death drive" - commonly known as thanatos, after the Greek personification of Death. Put simply, our main character is compelled to engage in behaviour which is risky, shameful and ultimately self-destructive. Brandon is searching for the fleeting or unobtainable thrill that is expressed in sexual ecstasy, and the more compulsive he becomes in his search, the further from his goal he gets. The petit mort or orgasm that the character experiences is a microcosm of his state, a fleeting glimpse of his ultimate fate, something which is enticing yet terrifying, preventable yet inevitable.
Shame spends a lot of its running time showing how distant Brandon is from the people around him. His desire for sexual satisfaction is matched by an inability or unwillingness to be intimate: he has few friends, doesn't return his sister's calls, and cuts straight to the chase when he and his boss go out on the pull. While the latter makes a fool of himself with bad dancing and corny chat-up lines, Brandon bides his time and eventually gets what he wants - or at least, what he wants right then.
This idea is reinforced by the conversation in the restaurant between Brandon and Mariane. Having arrived late and ordered their food, the two enter into a discussion about marriage, and Mariane spots an elderly couple on the other side of the restaurant, sitting silently. She postulates that they are not talking because they know each other so well that there is no need to say anything; Brandon retorts that they are bored and have simply run out of things to say. It's a lovely microcosm of Brandon's character, displaying his contempt for connection thinly disguised by wit and charm.
The film also touches on the way that the internet has changed sexual relationships. It takes the basic thesis of The Social Network (that online networking has made us more atomistic) and advances the idea that the instant gratification of online porn has diminished the emphasis we place on marriage and monogamy. Brandon can easily get aroused when the outcome is certain, whether online or in the gay club, but when he is asked to be intimate and personable in the film's only sexy scene, he can only go so far before his insecurities are exposed. The film doesn't argue that the internet is a probable cause for Brandon's afflictions, but it certainly isn't helping matters.
The film is held together by the stunning performance of Michael Fassbender, who first came to attention through his previous work with McQueen in Hunger. Fassbender is deeply charismatic but has a real sadness to him: his deep blue eyes slowly wander in every conversation, searching desperately for acceptance while trying to keep up a fašade. He gets some good support from Carey Mulligan, who delivers despite having less to work with than she did in Drive. Her slow rendition of 'New York, New York', which moves Brandon to tears, is quite remarkable.
If you wanted a sound-byte to encapsulate Shame, you might say that it does for sex addiction what Requiem for a Dream did for drug addiction, depicting a destructive force in graphic detail. But this analogy would be misplaced, since McQueen is interested in self-annihilation while Darren Aronofsky also concentrates on existential despair. It also illuminates the problem with Shame, namely that for all its graphic content, it doesn't go quite far enough.
In Requiem for a Dream, the experience was completely unhinged: the rapid editing, grim storyline and the lengths to which the characters were degraded made it painful to sit through, for all the right reasons. We genuinely got the sense of being in the same spiral as the characters, not knowing where we would end up and coming out feeling depressed but lucky to be alive. Shame has moments where it feels like this, but it also feels like a rigged experiment, perhaps reflecting McQueen's background in visual art. Despite an ambiguous ending and the shock of Sissie's fate, it still feels a little too choreographed or predetermined to completely knock us for six.
Shame is a bold and intriguing second effort from McQueen with a stunning central performance by Fassbender. It offers audiences a lot to chew on without coming across as a message movie, keeping us focussed on the disintegration of the characters. It is slightly compromised by its sense of distance, and it lacks the level of terrifying desperation offered by Requiem for a Dream. But it's still highly recommended as a work of great power and emotional intelligence.
Rivetingly played by Michael Fassbender (who is fast becoming one of my new favourite actors), it's a vehicle for his outstanding talent; granting him all the space he requires to bring out the full force of his thespian arsenal. Alongside, in a vital supporting role, we also find the hauntingly gifted Carey Mulligan, who plays his emotionally unstable sister, who moves in with him at the expense of their already frail sibling relationship.
As a character-driven drama it is admittedly slow - an attribute which may put some people off, but reward those who have the patience to follow it through. Personally, I didn't mind the relaxed pacing, as it allows you as a viewer to build strong, visceral bridges between yourself and the two leads. Upon reflection in the aftermath, it feels like you've stepped into the lives of two very real human beings.
Setting the mood and engaging the senses, Harry Escott's delicate music score goes perfect with the imagery and the events we are witnessing. Focused on the lustful and spontanenous escapades of our weighted main character, it's a very graphic film, that is anything but shy to display full-frontal nudity and explicit sexual content. It might be worth knowing if you're the sensitive type.
As a liberal person, living in a very liberal country, I'm quite used, however, to this kind of raw and outspoken sensualism. It fits the plot and is done in great taste. The only gripe to be mentioned here is The Academy's ignorance in excluding Fassbender from this year's nominations. A disgrace really, as this is one of his finest performances yet.
To us relishers of dramatic splendor, however, this is a tremendously engrossing character study, whose psychosexual explorations ring amazingly true. Subtle, absorbing and brilliantly directed, Shame is a fantastic achievement by all parties involved - and certainly, unmistakably, has nothing to be ashamed of.
"Shame" promised a lot of it and judging by its NC-17 rating, the MPAA believes it delivered. On paper, the sex and nudity in "Shame" was necessary to the film as it dealt with the taboo subject of sexual addiction. In reality, the sex and nudity served as a mere marketing vehicle that attracted those who like to rubberneck past a car wreck. You watch with curiosity but thereÔ(TM)s nothing much to say about it other than to say you witnessed it.
"Shame" falls into the category of "what could've been?" An interesting subject, compelling leads, an industry's rapt attention. But the film never finds a tellable story.
A good example of this is Michael Fassbender's presence in the film. There's no question that his performance is strong and that he deserved the accolades and Oscar buzz he received. But his performance becomes a bit of a show. He's masturbating! He's having graphic sex! He's masturbating at work! He's having graphic sex in front of a hotel window! Fassbender ably performs in every scene and gives us his all. But you never really know what's behind it all. What's his motivation? Is it a troubled childhood? Maybe. The filmmakers do leave you clues but never really let you feel the severity of truth of it.
Perhaps they thought that Carey Mulligan's presence fulfilled that purposes. Mulligan, more than Fassbender, does a lot with her role. You get to know Sissy, you recognize her, you understand her pain even though you only know a hint of her backstory. Mulligan is given Sissy's co-dependency as the nucleus of her character's existence and she squeezes every ounce of that characteristic in the best possible way.
Fassbender's Brandon is in constant hiding driven by shame and he does so by wearing a cold shell. It's a hard characteristic to pull off without coming across as robotic and Fassbender seems to walk that fine line well. Outside of that he's a Hollywood fabrication "the successful Executive", you know that ones who work in modern offices, with nice glass walls, with attractive co-workers mulling about. Doesn't matter what he actually does, what matters is that he masturbates at work and watches a lot of porn.
"Shame" is a shame. The filmmakers could have told a psychologically-rich story that really exposed the pain sexual addiction can cause. Instead Steve McQueen stages a film with lots of scenes but very little story to be memorably affecting.
Director: Steve McQueen
Summary: Although handsome New Yorker Brandon Sullivan is outwardly reserved, inside he's seething with an overwhelming sexual addiction. But when his uninhibited younger sister invades his life, Brandon struggles to control his self-destructive behavior.
My Thoughts: "The performances by Fassbender and Mulligan are outstanding. The emotions are intense, honest, and raw. Michael Fassbender oozes with confidence as he walks around nude (there is no shame in his game nor should there be ; ] ). Kudos for him for taking on a role most men would shy away from. Ms. Mulligan didn't shy away from going all natural either. So kudos to her as well.
The underlying story of Brandon and Sissy's relationship is the reasoning for why their relationship is so strained. I believe her presence makes him more aware of his issues and the "shame" he feels, which therefore makes him angry at himself and at her for making him feel those feelings. With her there he loses the control he had. She brings chaos to his scheduled secluded life. This leads him down a downward spiral fast. Sissy also has her own issues with sex. She attaches herself to men who don't want her. Where Brandon's is an addiction, hers is more of a plead of wanting to be wanted and loved.
In the end it's a fantastic film with great performances by Fassbender and Mulligan. The only complaint, more of a request really, I would have liked more of a background story on the characters. Just a bit more to go on. But besides that, it's a great film that gives you a look inside the world of sex addiction and the destruction it brings to ones life."
Brandon Sullivan (Fassbender) is a successful New York businessman. He leads a comfortable lifestyle, including that of a bachelor, where he spends most of his evenings sleeping with different women. It all seems normal on the surface but the unexpected arrival of his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) upturns a deeper side to him. It appears that his sexual appetite may be more serious than he's been willing to confront.
Michael Fassbender has been steadily building a reputation for himself since he came to attention in McQueen's debut and followed it up with consistent turns in Andrea Arnold's "Fish Tank" and Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds". He's an actor in very high demand at the moment and judging by this performance alone, you can see why. This is as good as any he has delivered. If not better. Sometimes actors go above and beyond the call of duty; Harvey Keitel in "Bad Lieutenant" and Charlotte Gainsbourg in "AntiChrist" are a notable couple. Fassbender can be, courageously, included amongst them. He exposes himself in every sense of the word and delivers the most fearless and vulnerable performance of 2011. His portrayal of Brandon is a deeply complex piece of work. He's an enigmatic character that grooms and dresses immaculately. He takes pride in his appearance but not his actions. He cannot connect with people on an intimate level and as a result, develops a voracious appetite for sexual encounters and material. His lack of connection also extends to his emotionally fragile sister, who so obviously needs his help and it's the very arrival of his sibling that brings his shame to the forefront. His use of pornography, prostitutes and masterbation can't be hidden anymore. This is when he has to confront his own self-loathing and sexual addictions. His encounters are all meaningless and any that do show meaning, he can't perform. This is a truly harrowing character study of the failure or inability to truly connect with people - especially in the times and congested environments we live in. Despite the numerous sexual encounters, there is nothing erotic about this film. It's purely focused on the turmoil of one man's spiralling journey of self-harm. Carey Mulligan cannot go unmentioned for her emotional performance here also. Her role is not as in depth as the protagonist and she has less to work with but she's the catalyst for the unravelling of the film and brings a much needed heart into the mix.
McQueen's direction is near flawless and meticulous in it's detail. He takes a step back from his actors and captures moments in facial expressions and eye contact. Words don't always need to be said and if anything, it's all the better for it. He allows an intelligence from his audience and he's aided by some stark and clinical cinematography by Sean Bobbitt, in capturing the emptiness in these damaged peoples lives.
I have now lost count of the amount of film's and performances of 2011 that were, unforgivably, overlooked at the Oscars. This is most certainly one of them. The title of this film should be shouted continuously in the faces of the Academy voters. It's a disgrace it was omitted.
This may prove to be a difficult or controversial film for some people. It's certainly not for the prudish or sensitive of heart but I, for one, think it's essential viewing. A powerful and provocative collaboration between Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender has developed and I can only hope they continue to make more films in the future.
What I like about the movie, is that it manages to stay tasteful in spite of the subject and the more explicit scenes.
Mulligan deserves to be mentioned here, she did good job playing Sissy, don't let that sweet face of her fool you.