words WILL STEVENS
In an era of downloadable gratification, webcams, and the ability to mold the visual world to fit our own fetishes, are we more alone than ever before? What are the expectations for love now that our points of reference are derived from the infinite and ever-changing cyberspace and pop culture? Are we as a society heading to a place where love is broken down into its raw elements and commodified?
Heavy-handed, I know, but these are questions you’ll probably be asking yourself after seeing director Steve McQueen’s excruciatingly poignant “Shame” — a film centering around one man’s struggle with his sex addiction. Now before seeing this film, I associated that phrase with Tiger Woods and his tabloid saga two years ago. While some might pity him, it’s hard not to laugh at the spectacle of how far a perpetually horny man will go just for that quick fix.
But in the case of increasingly under-appreciated Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Brandon, a rising star in the Manhattan white-collared world, the darkly comedic horn-dog hijinks come to a screeching halt when his vulnerable younger sister Sissy, played with equal impact by Carey Mulligan, arrives at his apartment in need of a place to stay. It is when we see Brandon in his failed efforts to shield his sickening lust that we realize how crippling this problem is. His spell leaves him incapable of any level of communication with people in his life, and his uncontrollable urges severely damage himself and everyone around him.
In effort to turn the page, Brandon tries going on a traditional date, but what ensues is a dinner scene reminiscent of a science fiction film, where beneath Brandon’s sleek exterior might as well be an emotionless robot, trying so hard to mold into humanity, but ultimately consumed by his own faults. Fassbender is one of those rare actors whose expressionless face can say so much. He is perfect for this role.
Aside from Brandon and Sissy, arguably the third prominent character is New York City. This is not Woody Allen’s romantically chaotic Manhattan, nor is it Don Draper’s world from Mad Men. This feels much more honest — the New York with quiet nighttime sidewalks on side streets, unglamorous apartments with sterile lobbies, and corporate offices so flavorless that they might as well be located in Cleveland. Although this is a pretty raunchy film with an NC-17 rating, the simplified subplot of this film is mainly two individuals who went to New York to be In New York, and how the city has eaten them both alive.
What makes Shame so remarkable is that rather than stooping to provide narrative convenience to viewers who thirst for context, McQueen only gives us what we see. Not only do we not know the origins of Brandon’s problem, the details of his bizarre and questionably incestuous relationship with Sissy, but Brandon’s character doesn’t grant us cinematic retribution, because McQueen knows that’s all bullshit. Instead, at the film’s end we experience a moment or two that while small, could lead the protagonist elsewhere, but probably not. Such is life.
Shame opens at the Bijou Art Cinemas on Jan. 20.
Welcome to Livin’ The Stream: “Please Vote For Me” (2007)
words MARGARET APPEL First and foremost, welcome to the OV's latest cinematic blog installment: "Livin' The Stream." Each week ...