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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 12.13.11] drama

Year: 2011
Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: Steve McQueen, Abi Morgan
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

I'm not sure which is more uncomfortable: sitting in a dark room full of strangers watching a man fornicate with strangers like it's going out of style or watching that same man unable to get it up with a woman he cares about. It's a tricky set of circumstances which director Steve McQueen manoeuvres in Shame and he does so with admirable restraint, keeping the sexually amped film centered on two emotionally broken individuals.

Man of the moment Michael Fassbender stars as Brandon, a handsome and successful advertising professional with a sex addiction. It's taken over his life; he prowls for one night stands, hires hookers, both his home and work PC are full of online porn and he needs masturbation breaks to get him through the day. His carefully manicured life is thrown into a tailspin with the unexpected arrival of his sister Sissy, a musician with her own set of issues, also relating to relationships or more accurately, her obsessive need for intimacy. These two broken people have an unspoken connection that lies just beyond the surface and though we get glimpses of it, particularly later in the film when Sissy explains that they're not bad people and that they simply come from a bad place, they're never really explored.

Much has been written and there have been many discussions with both the stars and the director regarding what Brandon's addiction says about our current society and our ability to live insular lives. If you don't want to, you don't ever need to leave the house, but I found McQueen's film goes much further than that. Sure, there's something to be said about the ease with which we can engage in sexual behaviour anonymously but Brandon's addiction seems more of a search for salvation. He's not anonymously using online porn, he's even using his real name, but he's actively out there meeting women and there's a sense that he sees the same call girls on a regular basis. It's as if he's trying to break through some invisible barrier to feel something, some emotional connection to these women, without success.

When Brandon does find someone he's genuinely interested in, the encounter ends badly when he can't perform sexually. There's a sense of shame that emanates from him as Marianne gets dressed and walks out of the hotel room, it's not a sense of shame for his addiction which no one else seems aware of but a sense of disappointment and anger that he can't connect the emotions, the feelings of care and passion with the act of love making. He's a volatile individual, one that can't disassociate anger and pain from his emotional connections, something which is clear from his rocky relationship with Sissy, the only person he seems to have any sort of emotional bond with.

This all brings into question meaning of the film's title. What shame does Shame refer to? Is it Brandon's shame at his sexual inadequacies or his obsession with porn? Is it some comment on where he came from? A sense of guilt at his actions or a feeling of being unworthy of anything better - like a real relationship? Or perhaps it's a commentary on our lack of shame as a society, our capability to do things that should elicit some emotional response which we ignore? I think it's a combination of all of the above.

Brandon's final fall, the aftermath of his failed encounter with Marianne, devolves into debauchery: a call girl at the hotel, a failed attempt to pick-up a woman at the bar which ends with Brandon being beat by said woman's boyfriend, an escapade with two women before it all ends with an encounter at a gay club. McQueen plays this downfall for what seems like an eternity and with each new encounter, a feeling of sadness washes over the audience; we feel pity and shame for Brandon as he struggles to gain control.

Though it left me with a lot to think about, Shame also left me with a lot of unanswered questions, most notably who or what damaged these two characters so badly. Though the film focuses mostly on Brandon who seems incapable of forming a relationship based on emotional connection, Sissy is too quick to hand over her emotions, connecting and holding on to, or trying to hold on to, whoever crosses her path. I wanted to know how these two broken individuals came to be so scarred and yet, there's little mention of their past. I don't doubt this lack of information is purposeful, nothing about Shame, including the score which brilliantly uses Glenn Gould's recordings of Bach's Goldberg Variations, is left to chance but I wanted that history but as with the film's final scene, that's left for the audience to speculate on.

Fearless performances, beautiful cinematography and design, Shame has it all but be forewarned, it comes at the cost of feeling grimy for days after seeing it.

Editor's Note: Also be sure to check out projectcyclops' review of the film from LIFF.

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Dr. Phil (9 years ago) Reply

So its just another Zombie flick?

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