Sunday, January 6, 2013


Directed by Steve McQueen.
2011. Rated NC-17, 101 minutes.
Michael Fassbender
Carey Mulligan
James Badge Dale
Nicole Beharie
Lucy Walters
Hannah Ware
Elizabeth Masucci

Like a lot of bachelors, Brandon (Fassbender) sleeps and walks around his apartment in the nude and uses the bathroom with the door open. This is the opening scene and serves as your warning Shame is a movie that doesn’t pull any punches. We learn shortly hat he has a well-paying job, watches lots of porn and has hookers over from time to time. He also spends a few nights a week at bars with his boss David (Dale) who is constantly trying to pick up chicks. A little after that, we find out the woman pleading with Brandon on his answering machine is not some jilted lover, but his estranged sister Sissy (Mulligan). She suddenly re-enters his life without permission. Against his better judgment, he decides to let Sissy stay with him a while. From there we watch his life, and eventually hers, fall apart.

It becomes pretty clear that Brandon is a sex addict. This is eroding his ability to function as a normal member of society and carry on meaningful relationships. However, we wonder why all the disdain for his sister. He seems to see her as a free-loader who bounces in and out of his life, wreaking havoc as she does. However, there also appears to be more to it than that. The movie moves steadily down that path, intriguing us all along the way.

Unfortunately, the seams burst during the third act. It happens when Brandon suddenly isn’t able to perform. Why isn’t readily clear. Perhaps the lady he's with is too nice a girl. Maybe it’s because his attraction to her isn’t based on sex. Or maybe it’s because she’s a co-worker, or because she’s black, or because he doesn’t like her choice of underwear. Whatever it is, it needs further explanation because none of those ideas hold much water based on what follows. We immediately see Brandon go on a serious binge involving a bit of everything. I guess it brings us back to the meaningful relationship/nice girl line of reasoning. However, their encounter isn’t something that takes place while they appear to be falling in love or even considering each other as serious potential mates. It’s a spontaneous, mid-day, ‘let’s go do it’, type of thing a day or two after they’d only had their first date, a moderately successful but decidedly asexual event which didn’t even result in a goodnight kiss. The problem is compounded by what Sissy does. It’s something that positions itself as an impetus for something, but for what? I’ve said too much. I’ll stop before I get into serious spoilers.

Michael Fassbender is ceaselessly fascinating in the lead role. His work is nothing short of courageous as he exposes himself both physically and emotionally throughout. He ably conveys the fragile mind state of an addict. He doesn’t have to go it alone, either. Carey Mulligan is nearly as good in her role. Her portrayal is not quite as in your face as Fassbender’s but it’s even closer to the breaking point right from the start. She teeters the edge very well.

Shame is an interesting movie dealing with an addiction not often depicted on screen. Director Steve McQueen tells his story without flinching and manages to hold our attention even when everyone has their clothes on. The problem comes with the pivotal scene I mention above. It triggers a serious binge by Brandon but doesn’t make much sense within the context of the movie. It just hangs there, a giant loose end we can’t quite tie. We get a similar feeling about how Brandon escapes even the slightest consequences for his behavior and of the ending itself. I’m all for ambiguous conclusions but when the credits roll on this one the questions raised aren’t compelling, leaving us with a dissatisfied feeling even after we enjoy so much of it.

MY SCORE: 8/10

No comments:

Post a Comment