Courtesy of the YoungFolks.com
I had been looking forward to Shame for months. It’s an odd thing to admit since the film is a sex addiction drama. But what really had me interested were Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. Fassbender is having a great breakout year. He’s ridiculously talented (and handsome); 2011 has been incredible for him. Shame is his most-talked-about film this year, mainly because of its NC-17 rating. Since it deals with sex addiction, it’s easy to understand why it earned such a rating. (Although, I’ve seen many violent rated-R films that should have earned a NC-17 rating, but that’s a topic for another day.) NC-17 or not, Shame is an extraordinary film. It’s intense and gut-wrenching, and a must-see.
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is seemingly normal. He has a great job, well-groomed, handsome, organized, and the list can go on. Underneath that whole visage is a deeply damaged man, dealing with sex addiction. He deals with his addiction in a rather blasé way, like it’s a simple chore or watching TV. It’s when his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), unexpectedly crashes at his place that his exterior starts to crumble. Brandon is pretty stoic, and tries hard to avoid emotions at all times. But having a very emotional, messy, self-destructing sister around doesn’t make it easy. It comes down to both Brandon and Sissy having to face their problems.
This movie is very performance driven, and Fassbender and Mulligan are both exceptional. Fassbender does a lot of staring in this movie, and sometimes staring makes me laugh because it can look ridiculous. Fassbender didn’t make me laugh; he somehow found a way to communicate whatever he wanted to say through those stares. He also brought so much intensity to his character. Brandon’s tension was radiating off the screen. It was hard not to feel for him. Frankly, it makes this film hard to watch. Even though there’s a ton of sex and nudity, there’s nothing enjoyable about it. It’s mostly just sad. As for Carey Mulligan, I personally think this is her most daring performance to date. It had seemed for a while that she was settling into the same kind of roles. Sissy is something totally different for her, and she nails it. One of my favorite scenes from Shame (actually of the entire year) is when Sissy sings New York, New York at a club for Brandon and his boss. It is one of those cinematic moments that swallow you whole and leave you feeling almost inconsolable. There is another scene like that later on, which I won’t elaborate on, but it’s equally powerful and heart-breaking.
Director Steve McQueen is an excellent filmmaker. The scenes of Brandon running through New York are so incredibly shot. McQueen’s style fit right in to this type of story and topic. McQueen also co-wrote the script with Abi Morgan. I will admit that I had read an early version of the script many months ago, and that also had lend to my interest in this film. The movie is a little more ambiguous than the script was. Yet, usually I feel almost the same kind of experience when reading a script and then watching the film. In this case, it was totally different experience. McQueen and Morgan fleshed out the story on paper, but on screen gave it an absolutely new embodiment, which surprised me (in a good way).
Shame is definitely a film to see once in your lifetime. While the subject matter does sound dreary and depressing, and it is, there are quite a few funny moments throughout that lighten the mood. The sibling relationship between Brandon and Sissy is very fascinating. They really only have each other. The actors’ chemistry was spot on for such a strange sibling relationship. I’m seriously hoping that Fassbender and Mulligan both get nods for their stunning work in this film. This isn’t an Oscar-friendly film, but for once can the Academy get over whatever they need to get over and give Shame the chance it absolutely deserves? Let’s desperately hope so.
Shame is now playing in select cities. Click here to see when and where it will be playing in your area. (And yeah, I emphasize that this isn’t a film to see with your parents. Awkward.)