Monday, January 16, 2012

Film Review: Shame

Starting out matter-of-factly enough to be considered a modern day, sex addict version of Jeanne Dielman, we watch the opening salvo as Michael Fassbender's Brandon - the titular, ostensibly shamed sexual obsessive - goes about his seemingly drudging daily and nightly routine of anonymous sex, ignoring the pleading messages on his voicemail, vigorous masturbation and online porn - all the while dragging along a seemingly worn out penis that even flaccid could easily be mistaken for a nine iron.  Now even though this same said full frontal nudity, along with some pretty graphic sexual encounters (at least graphic for a mainstream movie), saddled the film with that bottom line kick in the balls NC-17 rating, Shame is not actually about sex so much as it is about addiction.  An addiction that in this day and age could be just as dangerous, or at least just as much of a crap shoot as heroin or crack.

To further prove this is a film not about sex but about addiction, one is asked to look at the seeming sexiness of such a sexual film.  Even with all the sex that is going on (some of it peripherally, some of it full frontal and center), never once is this film sexy.  Instead, Fassbender's sex addict goes about in a veritable state of melancholy, his sexual encounters cold and formulaic, his demeanor one of diffident arrogance.  Fassbender, whose smile incidentally, the few times we get to see it, is one of both disarming charity and predatory ferocity, goes about his role as if he is a dead man walking - no emotions (well, perhaps desire and some self-loathing) and no sense of community with anyone around him (well, except for when he is fucking them).  Even when his sister comes to live with him (Carey Mulligan playing what one would call against type - and doing one hell of a job at it) we see a distance between these estranged siblings - Fassbender's cold as ice addict never letting anyone within, emotionally speaking, arm's reach.  Perhaps Fassbender's humanity is hidden away somewhere, only allowed to see the light of neoned night when he thinks no one is looking (Mulligan's haunting jazzy rendition of New York New York brings the man to unwanted tears), but he keeps it so deep inside of him that he cannot even communicate without the aid of sexuality.  This may even be more than alluded to in an incestuous way as well.

Directed by Steve McQueen (no, not that one), this highly anticipated followup to the artist-turned-filmmaker's debut feature Hunger (in which most people first became aware of how daring and remarkable an actor Herr Fassbender truly is) is a blast of sexually promiscuous arctic air.  We see a man dying on the inside, unable to open up to anyone, unwilling to give any sort of loving emotion a second thought (if he even allows them a first one), trapped inside his own addiction, needing sex, in any form (and I mean that) to feel alive, yet still feeling dead inside.  We see a man in the ups and downs of addiction - his hard drive being wiped clean at work, perusing subways and back alleys for any human touch - who finally succumbs to his self-destructive habits and hits that proverbial rock bottom of addictions.  It is McQueen who gives his film an air of coolly derisive otherwordliness (the dank subways, the saturated lighting, the aforementioned Jeanne Dielman-esque cadence), but it is the it-boy Fassbender (though judging from the full frontal shots, perhaps it-man is more apropos) who makes us feel both repulsion and empathy for this lost soul and allows us into this world of desperation, this world of the walking dead - this world of shame.


Christine said...

I definitely became a fan of both McQueen and Fassbender after seeing Hunger so I'm eager to see this one. And I love Carey Mulligan--I love the roles that she's been taking on lately.

Kevyn Knox said...

Carey is great. This role is so different than what we are used to from her - even her more recent choices like Drive. Her character is just as messed up as Fassbender's.

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