Wednesday, December 21


(out of 4)

Directed by Steve McQueen
1 hour 41 mins
Distributed by Fox Searchlight

Michael Fassbender
Carey Mulligan
James Badge Dale
Nicole Beharie

Leaving the theater I overheard a man say to his woman companion that this was not a film for just anyone.  I thought about it and concluded that Shame is a film for hardly anyone.  And there's no shame in that either.  Doesn't mean I disliked it either, because I didn't.  It just is what it is.  It's certainly possible that the filmmakers more or less expect this film will not be a commercial hit, that it won't make a lot of money, that it won't make it's way out of art houses.  It's housed in two of the three auditoriums at my cineplex though... sounds like they're hopeful.  It's difficult to get many cheerleaders for a film totally devoid of joy or humor or any semblance of upbeat.  It wasn't supposed to be any of that.  Problem is most moviegoers are looking for a modicum of some of that and as a result of not getting it, they are likely to say they didn't like the film.  I think that many people personalize a film and when they don't like how that worked out, they also fail to find much artistic merit in the piece.  Pity.  There's room in those big cineplexes for all kinds of movies.  In our showing several folks walked out.  If one approached this film with a bit of the serious student of film, I think there is more to appreciate.

Michael Fassbender is someone I have my eye on as an up and coming actor.  I thought he was mesmerizing in Inglourious Basterds; quite glorious as Rochester in the latest Jane Eyre, wonderful in 300 and I can't wait to see him sparkle as psychotherapist Carl Jung in the upcoming David Cronenberg film A Dangerous Method opposite Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud.  I'll tell you this, Fassbender will not be forgotten for this film.  More to the point may be a question of how he will be remembered.

Shame is as serious as a heart attack and Fassbender's haunted Brandon is a serious sex addict.  Serious. Sex.  Addict.  He loves porn, requires sex virtually all the time, few in his orbit are safe from his penetrating eyes and stares; he walks the wet, dark streets constantly looking for action and he's a man who knows he'll find it.  Somewhere.  Just keep looking.  The streets and bars are good, the wall outside will come in handy.  It doesn't take him long to rejuventate himself and he's hungry for more.  What he doesn't like is commitment or permanency.  His longest relationship ever was just four months long.  For Brandon to keep up charisma, he must change partners--  often-- because the charisma would diminish with routine.  Perhaps on his long walk home through the netherworld at 3 a.m., down dark, wet Manhattan streets, just perhaps he's thinking this is no life but he can't allow that to stay in his brain too long.  He's only too fond of hitting the delete key.  Poof.  Gone.  And after he goes to bed, he thinks and ponders and falls into fitful sleep.  Then the alarm goes off, he brushes his teeth, spends a little long in the shower, downs some coffee and arrives in the office just in time to watch all that wiggling in too-tight skirts.  Ah, it's gonna be another good day, worth getting up for.  What else is there?

It is therefore most disconcerting when his sister, down on her luck, comes to live with him, throwing that routine out of whack.  Their love for one another is a little lopsided.  Her character was invented, I suspect, because even a good sex addict has to get dressed and spend some time with family once in awhile.  But her nosing around, making messes and catching him at inopportune times has got to stop. Carey Mulligan was excellent as Sissy.

Let's be frank, because everything about this film is... there is lots of sex, much of it graphic.  Oddly enough, I found little of it titilating .  Maybe it was just me.  There's also much nudity; most actors displayed all they had to offer.  Ooops, two more just left the theater.

In some ways I was reminded of Brando's Last Tango in Paris and Midnight Cowboy and Looking for Mr. Goodbar and plenty of others... dark, austere, unyielding, uncompromising, tough.

The truth is that there are people like Brandon in this world... plenty of them, ones who like quick, anonymous, fleeting, move on to the next.  No names or little talk sometimes, no dinners, no flowers, no meeting Mama, the hell with your marital or relationship status. Well, for Brandon maybe the occasional dinner but it's no more than a means to an end and he doesn't really enjoy it or the food or really even her.  It's the semi-grownup version of the kid lament are we there yet?  Are you done yet?  You don't want dessert, do you?  You naked yet?  Set no placecard for Brandon at Christmas dinner because he can put that time to better use and he has not a smidge of interest in catching up with Great Aunt Eleanor.

So yeah, this is not for most people.  There were lots of solo men in my theater; they probably thought of this as a training film.  Some may carp that Shame is a new low in film-making.  One either appreciates or blows off sexual frankness in various art forms and some are greatly put off or offended by it.  I was put off some by the slowness... too many scenes of just staring.  Staring at the elevator door, waiting for it to open.  Staring at the subway tracks.  Gawking into space.  I say, hey, suggest that stuff or if it must be acted out, do it sparingly.  Zzzzzzz.   

On the other hand, I found Shame to be very brave, very audacious and I respect that.  I have a real special fondness for character-driven work way more than for explosions and car chases.  I would love to be a fly in a car with a couple after leaving this film and one of them liked it and one didn't.  The one who liked it would no doubt be engineering words and phrases quite gingerly.  

When the screen darkened and the credits started to roll up, I felt exhausted.  The best antidote might have been that this was on a double-bill with a Three Stooges film.  I needed silly.

NEXT POST:  Review of Young Adult

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