Friday, December 9, 2011
There are some scenes in Shame that are among the most powerful scenes in cinema this year and Steve McQueen is easily becoming one of the best up-and-coming filmmakers out there today. Shame is just his second film and yet he already exudes a style that is specific to him. Unfortunately, his style can be a bit on the self-indulgent side and I don't think it always helps serve the story. Still, given the subject matter, Shame is a very successful movie. It's a movie about sex addiction and it never shows any restraint in its depiction of sex, but it also never shows sex in a titillating, erotic manner. McQueen does a great of job of first showing Michael Fassbender's character Brandon express enjoyment and pleasure from having sex to later showing him feel pain, remorse, and the feeling that he's completely helpless in his addiction.
Brandon is a rich 30-something year old living in Manhattan who enjoys two things: pleasuring himself and having sex with other women. He does his best not to let it affect his work life where he's actually blossoming, but when his sister Sissy moves in, everything goes wrong for him. Brandon is the type who seemingly does not enjoy human contact if it's not on a sexual level. He reluctantly lets his sister stay at his apartment but is constantly annoyed by her presence, especially when she ends up sleeping with his boss. Suddenly, Brandon's personal space is limited to his bedroom and the bathroom and when that space is violated, it leaves him with even fewer options. And with that, Brandon becomes a man whose sexual urges start to spiral out of control. Even in his attempts to right himself and throw out all of his dirty magazines, Brandon's urges keep growing and becoming worse.
Yes, Shame is rated NC-17. There's a lot of sex scenes in the movie, Fassbender's penis is in quite a few scenes (but mostly in the beginning). It's raw and does not hold back from showing sex. For some, that might be and will be off-putting and if you can't handle that, you may not want to see this movie. Shame, though, is anything but pornographic. If anything, it's anti-pornographic. It succeeds in showing the dangers of sexual addiction and when Brandon's life goes out of control, it really goes out of control. Steve McQueen never attempts to tell you what it all means or whether or not Brandon will ever get better. I think it would be dishonest if everything wrapped up in a little neat package for Brandon. You can't just get rid of an addiction that serious unless you attempt to get some professional help.
Michael Fassbender is at his best in this film as is Carey Mulligan. But Fassbender really goes all out with almost no restraint. That is such a valuable trait to have in an actor and Steve McQueen must be thankful in having an actor so committed to the work, especially considering the subject matter. You never doubt Fassbender for a second and the academy would be unwise to ignore Fassbender in the best actor category.
Shame has some minor flaws to it though. The dialogue can feel a bit too stiff even though there are some strong moments like the confrontation between Brandon and Sissy towards the end. Like I mentioned earlier, there is also some tendency for McQueen to get a bit self-indulgent with his long shots. It worked in his brutal debut "Hunger" but not so much in "Shame." I do think Shame is a better film overall, but there are scenes like when Brandon is jogging and the camera stays in a one-shot watching him jog. It's nice to look at, but it's not exactly fascinating cinema. I applaud and admire Steve McQueen for sticking with his convictions and having a strong sense of style. But in a movie with such a powerful story as this, he doesn't need his artful long shots all the time.
Shame is still a great film and Steve McQueen is definitely a director on the rise. Michael Fassbender continues to be an acting powerhouse and should be a dream to work with for any director. If it weren't for some indulgences here and there, Shame would be my favorite film of the year. But I like the idea that McQueen is a great director, young in his career, that has room for improvement. As good as Shame is, he can do better, and I'm excited to see him continuing to get better.