Release date: October 7, 2011 Director: Steve McQueen
Steve McQueen’s sophomore feature officially solidifies the director’s status as one of the greats. With his debut feature, Hunger, he was able to pull an amazing performance out of the incredibly versatile Michael Fassbender, and he does the same here.
The aptly titled Shame centers around a man named Brandon Sullivan. Brandon seems to lead the perfect life. He has the perfect job, lives comfortably in an upscale apartment in New York, and is strikingly handsome and healthy for a man in his late thirties. All of his friends seem to love him, and he gets along quite well with his boss and co-workers. However, Brandon is living in darkness. The truth is that Brandon has been struggling with sexual addiction for quite some time, and as we will see throughout the course of the film, it has begun to devour him completely. Unable to form intimate bonds and meaningful relationships, Brandon has become a slave to his most carnal desires. His life consists of casual trysts with prostitutes and random men and women from clubs and bars, sexual encounters over the webcam, voyeurism, and compulsive masturbation – not to mention a drug habit.
When his emotionally damaged sister, Sissy, unexpectedly shows up at his apartment in need of a place to stay, she quickly becomes a nuisance in his life, placing a barrier between Brandon and his addiction. When she discovers his dark secret, she is appalled at first, but attempts to lead him to the path of recovery by reminding him that he is loved. These two damaged souls need one another to survive.
As the pressure mounts, Brandon’s life begins to unravel. He goes to the very depths of hell and back. He begins to lose control, until the one day when he is forced to confront his demons head on.
There is hope for Brandon yet.
The performances in Shame are magnificent. Michael Fassbender delivers an Oscar worthy performance as the conflicted Brandon. Carey Mulligan is equally powerful as Sissy. She was extraordinary in An Education, and continues to impress with her monumental work here. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the score is haunting as well. All technical and artistic aspects are perfect. Steve McQueen’s use of long takes is highly effective. He simply sets up the shot, allowing the actors to take over within that space. Since the scene isn’t riddled with cuts, the sense of reality is heightened, pulling the audience in to the lives of these tortured characters.
This is an exceptionally powerful film, and it is not recommended for those who are easily offended. Director Steve McQueen refused to censor this material to gain an R rating, and so the film was branded with an NC-17 rating. The sexual content is extremely explicit, but serves a purpose within the context of the film. If you are seeking titillation, you will not find it here. Onscreen sex has never looked so repulsive. Sex addiction is a serious issue that is rarely dealt with in the cinema. Steve McQueen tackles the subject with respect and constraint. The results are disturbing and rewarding, with an ending that is appropriately ambiguous.
Much like Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, this is an adult film which deals with an adult subject with equal amounts of maturity and grace.
Adam is a hardcore film fanatic. Some would call him a film snob. They’re probably right. He’s been writing film reviews for as long as he can remember, and it is truly one of his passions. Aside from writing film reviews, he is also a screenwriter. He’s written two shorts in the last year, one of which he plans to shoot in the spring of 2013. His favorite filmmakers are Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, Ingmar Bergman, Michael Haneke, and David Lynch – simply too many to list here.