Review: Shame

Posted: December 2, 2011 in Film Reviews
Tags: , , , ,

Michael Fassbender in a scene from ShameWhen people talk about Shame, the discussion tends to move towards the uncommon amount of nudity in the film. But that is only a part of two outstanding performances by Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan, who convincingly display incredibly raw emotions in a powerful narrative.

Brandon (Fassbender) is a successful business-type at an undefined company. Outwardly, he appears to be your typical, young, handsome go-getter who’s good at his job and has no trouble getting what he wants. But this facade masks an uncontrollable addiction to sexual release that is void of any attachment or relationship, and satisfied via one night stands with random strangers, prostitutes, pornography and masturbation. His secret is safely hidden until his lounge singer sister, Sissy (Mulligan), comes to stay with him, making it difficult to conceal his carnal cravings.

Sexual addiction is a term recently used often in the media as high profile marriages are torn apart by infidelity. The overuse of the label made it simple to disregard the affliction as an excuse rather than a real ailment. However, Brandon’s compulsive behaviour and the risk he endures to satisfy his urges is proof he has little control much like an alcoholic cannot refrain from drinking. His need to masturbate in a bathroom stall at work and the hidden stashes of porn all over his apartment are common activities of an addict. And much like it’s difficult to feel compassion for an addict, Brandon is not the most sympathetic character to grace the screen.

A scene at the beginning of the film is spellbinding as Brandon catches the eye of a woman on the train. He’s the predator on the prowl and she’s his desirable prey. His attention causes her to present, smiling and crossing her legs seductively. Just as quickly, the mood turns and she becomes disturbed by their exchange, fleeing suddenly before he’s able ensnare her. Another mesmerizing moment is Mulligan’s slow, stunningly sad rendition of “New York, New York.” Shot in a single long take, only cutting briefly to an affected Brandon intermittently, Sissy brings the house down with one dazzling performance.

Co-writer/director Steve McQueen’s sophomore picture re-teams the filmmaker with Fassbender, who lost 35 lbs for their first union, Hunger. McQueen has a talent for delving into people’s deepest obsessions, while maintaining an occasionally frustrating distance. Thus, the story only hints at Brandon and Sissy’s troubled past, while chronicling their almost incestuous relationship and his secret addiction.

Though Brandon at first appears to be managing his desires, as his world unravels his shame becomes increasingly more difficult to ignore. Meanwhile, Sissy’s desire for connection forces her to beg for human contact from all the men in her life.

The conclusion is somewhat contrived, but not even that can detract from the exceptional, absolutely naked performances of the actors and the captivating narrative.

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