The question as to whether sexual addiction is a real psychological condition has been debated ever since the notion of such a thing first came into question. The argument against its existence often seems to revolve around the idea that one can no sooner become addicted to sex as they could become addicted to any other natural bodily function or generally pleasurable experience that doesn't involve imbibing substances. But that's the tricky thing about addiction: if you think about it, nearly any behavior, pursuit, or simple function of life could theoretically become pathological. Look at shows like Hoarders, and its depiction of the insane behavior of people who simply collect things. Look at people with eating disorders, and tell me they don't have an addiction they're powerless to control? With this in mind, how is it so far-fetched to believe that someone could see sex as something so overwhelmingly desirable, that it controls nearly every facet of their lives?
Desire, perhaps, is the wrong word to describe Brandon's addiction. In Shame, the newest film from Hunger writer/director Steve McQueen, Brandon (Michael Fassbender, who also starred in Hunger) is a man who needs sex desperately. Every waking moment is dedicated toward finding his next orgasm. Initially, the film presents him as a merely depressed-looking Lothario. He lives in a modern, sterile New York apartment, and seems to have no issue bringing home women, be they business types looking for a quick hook-up, or simply call girls that happen to be appointment-free that evening. When he doesn't have women around, he masturbates. Frequently. At home, at work, wherever he can find a free, private moment, he will masturbate. Sometimes porn is involved; so much porn, in fact, that his work computer has been confiscated to be cleaned for viruses. Not that his home laptop is much better.
While the experience of sex seems largely joyless to Brandon, he also seems to be getting along mostly fine. That is, until his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes barging into his life, in need of a place to stay. Sissy is her own kind of troubled, marked with scars from either previous suicide attempts or simply cuttings out of boredom, and peculiarly affectionate with her brother in a way that suggests severe attachment issues, among other things.
Sissy's presence is, as Brandon eventually puts it, a "drag" on his lifestyle. Suddenly, the entire construct of his private life is thrown into chaos. At a certain point, the shame mentioned in the film's title seems to get the best of him, sending Brandon alternately toward fitful attempts at a real relationship with an attractive co-worker, and even deeper into his sexual spiral downward.
McQueen is relentless in his depiction of Brandon's desperation. Shame earns its NC-17 rating, though not through eroticism. The sex here is largely devoid of sensuality, or anything involving real human emotion. The sex is cold, distant, and devoid of feeling. Achieving orgasm is less a pleasurable pursuit as it is a terrible burden on Brandon. In one particularly haunting shot (which perhaps might have been best served as the film's final one), Fassbender looks directly into the camera as he achieves climax, showing a mixture of pain, release, and deep sadness all in the same expression.
The words "powerful" and "fearless" get tossed around quite a bit when describing performances that are merely interesting, but Fassbender's work here deserves both terms. So little of what he does here relies upon dialogue. There is an emptiness that feels truthful in every elongated stare he gives to some woman he sees on a train, or in a bar. As he sinks further and further into the muck of his own obsession, the stress and the fear overtake him with such subtlety that you don't realize how bad things have become until it's too late.
Fassbender keeps you transfixed on every terrible moment of his life. Sometimes you want to look away, but he, and McQueen won't let you. McQueen's direction allows Fassbender to do much of the heavy lifting. He works in frequent long takes, absorbing lengthy conversations, moments of silence, and torments in Brandon's day-to-day life. Occasionally, that methodology works against the film, especially when Mulligan, who is some sort of lounge singer that tours around various high-end martini bars (not exactly believable), sings a breathy, half on-key rendition of "New York, New York." She sings all of it, slowly, for several minutes that feel far longer than they should. The point of the scene seems to be to try and show some kind of touching emotional connection underneath it all between Brandon and Sissy, as he sheds a little tear at the end, but it's the one piece of the film that fails with a resounding thud.
McQueen just doesn't quite seem to know what he wants to do with Sissy, for the most part. She's a torrential force in Brandon's life, but she also seems to exist in this story solely as a reason to shake up Brandon's routine, culminating in an all-too-obvious bit of late-film tragedy that's as overwrought as it is unnecessary. Still, Mulligan is excellent in the role, mixing a sort of pixieish energy with a traumatic background she practically wears on her sleeve. Her and Fassbender are tremendous in their scenes together (the aforementioned musical number not withstanding), and McQueen is smart not to delve too deeply into the reasons for both their damaged psyches. As Sissy puts it to Brandon late in the film, "We're not bad people. We just come from a bad place."
Shame is not a film especially focused on strong narrative. Brandon's travails through sexual addiction are more like a series of increasingly darkened moments, strung together by pieces of story that mostly don't add up to a great deal of consequence. Instead, the consequence lies in those individual moments, and the actor experiencing them. This is Michael Fassbender's movie, and he wastes not a single frame of film. He has delivered no shortage of fine performances in his relatively short career, but Shame represents his best, most captivating work to date.
Red Band Trailer: Shame
Yes, it's a red band trailer for Shame, and yes, you probably know what that means. (I.e. don't watch this if you're under 17, kids.)
Trailer 2: Shame
Yes, Mr. Fassbender. I'll have sex with you. Repeatedly.
This NC-17 film features Michael Fassbender as a sex addict. I'd probably be a sex addict too, if I looked like Michael Fassbender.
|review||Fassbender is astonishing (5 out of 5)||biggest_loser|
|review||Ready for a Downward Spiral? (3 out of 5)||etragedy|
|news||DVD/Blu-Ray: Tuesday, April 17th||staceywi|
|forum||Hungarian poster for shame.... what the hell||feargalr|
|review||Cold and beautiful, SHAME is less sex and more world class acting (4 out of 5)||litrock|
|blog||UK Box Office Report: 20/1/12 - 22/1/12||jackanderson|
|forum||Does anyone know where or if I can buy it?||ox|