SHAME Review

"Shame" is certainly not for the faint of heart. You knew this if you purchased a ticket and had any interest in it though and so if you are reading this review I anticipate that you understand the content of "Shame". All this means is that you might have the will to look past the reasons this received an NC-17 rating and into the human soul that British director Steve McQueen is trying to document here. This is a film almost agonizing to endure, yet the redeemable qualities outweigh the drag of a pace so much you find yourself not necessarily enjoying the film, but rather engaged by it. There is an immediate intrigue to the movie, a mysterious tone that paints the film in grays and deep blues. Rarely do we see the white soaked, up scale apartment of Brandon (Michael Fassbender) during the day as he tries to escape what he knows he is. If it were not for this strand of a character element Brandon might seem inexcusable to the audience yet it is clear his addiction is something that haunts him, something that if he could, he would leave behind, but it is nearly impossible for him not to give in to the temptation. Fassbender, in a much talked about performance, is in a single word fearless. Not only for bearing his family jewels but because he bears so much more in his moving insight of a man who allows a general audience to glimpse a cold, bleak world. A world that is sometimes mocked on our entertainment shows, but "Shame" is a serious film and begs that you take it this way. You'll have no problem doing so, but it will test your limits and your patients. The only warning is to be prepared.

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) stares down a woman as
if it is prey and he is on the hunt.
The film opens with a fantastic scene in which Brandon, who always uses public transportation, stares down a woman on the subway. The pretty red head returns his gaze for the first few minutes, Brandon unflinching in his desire to have her. She begins to get uncomfortable, the film now cutting back and forth between the train ride and Brandon in his apartment as he goes about a routine morning, ignoring a voicemail being left by his sister. From the first moments McQueen is attempting to pull us into this competing world of ideals, this battle Brandon has going on in his head. The red head steps up, the camera pans down to her hand that possesses a wedding ring. Brandon, again unflinching stands up behind her. A single breath is taken by him and she feels it. The idea of what she could do with him (or more rightly so, what he wants to do to her) flashes across her face, but it seems too overwhelming and she makes for the door. Brandon goes after her, unsure of what he'll do if this desire goes unfulfilled. He stops short almost in a state of shock at the lengths he has gone too, but you can't nearly tell if it is this that frustrates him or the fact he let her get away. "Shame" can be summed up in this early scene, as it portrays what Brandon is, how he operates and his desires that go past the carnal. You can bet the house that McQueen will return to this method as well as it brilliantly portrays in only images and backing symphonic sounds the process of a seduction. In many ways the entire film could be compared to this first scene. Slowly pulling us in, we are scared at first to glimpse a world that we might find truth in, that we may see our own reflection in. Attempting to resist what might feel like instinct, while understanding it is not acceptable.

Sissy (Carey Mulligan) performs a version of the Frank
Sinatra staple "New York, New York".
This certain feeling of abnormality is tested for Brandon when his sister comes to stay with him. It is clear from their relationship why Brandon disengages any type of intimate relationship. His sister, as he points out, is a burden on him. Who, as played by Carey Mulligan, comes and goes as she wishes jumping from one guy to another and then calling them in desperation just as she had done with her brother. The introduction of Mulligan's Sissy reveals little about their childhood together though it is consistently hinted that there is a painful past there. More than anything Sissy's arrival forces Brandon to adjust his casual life of hiding from the world and finding solace in his computer or other sources that feed his addiction. I found it interesting that McQueen and writing partner Abi Morgan chose to document the only relationship Brandon must feel a slight bit of need to keep strong. The fact is, when we first meet him he could care less if he saw or spoke to Sissy again. In trying to illustrate why Brandon feels the need for his solitude they have given Sissy an attitude that is just the right amount of nag and entitlement. There are moments, such as when Mulligan performs a rendition of "New York, New York" that resonate with Brandon, making him understand why the world and society has been constructed as it has and why people follow what he no doubt sees as conventions. His sisters voice brings a tear to his eye. It gives Brandon a glimpse into what he probably feels is real humanity because the fact of the matter is he doesn't like the person he has become. He knows that he is twisted, that how he craves the need to fulfill his sexual desires isn't normal, but he can't help himself. In that moment we see him wonder if Sissy can. In that small moment we see the film's only real glimpse of light.

Brandon and Sissy discuss their difficult brother/sister
relationship in "Shame".
"Shame" evokes a certain sad world, a cold place where our main character walks among everyone and goes throughout his day with the smallest hint there is something off about him. The addiction does not compromise Brandon's life to the point that it takes over his entire being. He is able to keep his job, and is successful at it, but every woman he sees that elicits his wounds reminds him of what a monster he feels like on the inside. Fassbender gives a performance that will no doubt be showered with nominations as he finds a truth to a man who is never satisfied. a man who is looking for more where nothing else seems to exist. What I find interesting though is that as sexually charged a man Brandon is, he pales in comparison to another man Fassbender portrayed this year. In David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method" Fassbender plays Dr. Carl Jung who goes from trying to analyze the mind of a sex addict and what motivates this behavior to a man of lust himself. While Brandon could have easily been a patient of Jung's it would have almost been more engaging to watch Fassbender portray Brandon in a way that elicits Jung's realizations about the world around him rather than already believing he has it all figured out. In the end, "Shame" is a piece of work that some will call art, others will call trash. For me, it is not an experience I plan on re-living again, it is simply too much of a drag, a downer to watch again, but in the moment it commands your attention and despite the vulgarity of what you might see on screen it is nearly impossible to look anywhere else.