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Thomas Bo Larsen,
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Brandon is a 30-something man living in New York who is unable to manage his sex life. After his wayward younger sister moves into his apartment, Brandon's world spirals out of control. Shame examines the nature of need, how we live our lives and the experiences that shape us. Written by
When Brandon goes out for a run, the shadows of crew and technical equipment can be seen in the background. See more »
I'm trying, I'm trying to help you.
How are you helping me, huh? How are you helping me? How are you helping me? Huh? Look at me. You come in here and you're a weight on me. Do you understand me? You're a burden. You're just dragging me down. How are you helping me? You can't even clean up after yourself. Stop playing the victim.
I'm not playing the victim. If I left, I would never hear from you again. Don't you think that's sad? Don't you think that's sad? You're my brother.
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Shame, the real feel bad movie of the year, is only McQueen's second feature film to date. His first film, Hunger, focused on a man who made his life very public when he went on a hunger strike during the 1981 Irish Hunger Strikes. In Shame, McQueen dissects the very personal and often shocking sexual addiction of Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender). Brandon is a well off business man. He has an apartment in New York where he leads a seemingly good life, but hides a dark secret that is on the verge of destroying him. His sex addiction has gone out of control. To make this even more difficult, his sister drops in unexpected and crashes at his place (played by Carey Mulligan). Her lifestyle begins to interfere with his addiction, forcing him to take drastic measures.
Every waking moment is spent towards achieving one goal: orgasm. We see him smile, laugh, engage socially, but when he is alone he is focused, like a junkie going through the routine of drug addiction. Brandon's tools aren't lighters, spoons, and rubber ties. He uses prostitutes, Internet pornography, magazines, or his imagination. Even at work his mind wanders off, either at a passing coworker or something he has looked up on his computer. This is far from a private matter. His addiction is slipping into the open and he knows it. We assume he is aware of his problem. At the beginning of the film we see Brandon lying naked in bed, the sheet pulled over his private area. He lies motionless, only staring at the ceiling above, breathing in and out as if he knows that today is going to be a long day. We know he's not thinking about work. He has one thing and one thing only. Sex.
Most people associate sex with pleasure. I'm sure Brandon has at one time or another had a pleasurable experience during intercourse, but he is long past that stage. During a scene on the subway he spots a woman. She's an attractive woman. She's alone. Vulnerable. She eyes Brandon staring back at her. The two have chemistry. In silence they are mentally engaging each other. His stare never wavers, he just scans her up and down. Suddenly her face changes. She gets up, showing the audience her wedding band. We can feel her shame for flirting with Brandon. He gets up and stands behind her. He follows her out of the train only to lose her in the crowd. His disappointment isn't so much in relation to not getting to know her, but that he will have to continue his search for sex elsewhere.
Brandon is a tragic character. His only connection with people is linked with sex. How will this person help or interfere with me reaching my goal of orgasm? Brandon's limit's knows no bounds. Fassbender, who also appeared in McQueen's Hunger, gives a fascinating performance. It is fearless both in the sense that it is a physically challenging role and that he accomplishes the role with such honesty. He could have played it like some debonair businessman just looking to score. Fassbender knows that his character is truly disturbed. He knows that if people found out about his condition he would be ostracized. He also knows that he needs help and won't get it. All of these factors come into play and create an incredible performance. Much like Gosling pulled off in Drive, Fassbender uses his eyes and body language to express how he feels.
Pain is a word often associated with addiction. We see videos of addicts going through withdrawals in health class. They kick, scream, shake, vomit. Evidence of a sickness in the body. Fassbender's character also shows great pain and uneasiness. During times of sheer euphoria, at least for a normal person, Fassbender gives us pain and suffering. He can't help what he's doing but he needs it to stay normal.
Along with Fassbender is Mulligan, another one of today's rising stars. Her character is rebellious, dependent, and loving. She wants nothing more than to find someone to care for her and to spend time with her brother. Her brother is too involved with his addiction and her taste in men and willingness to fall in love with them brings her down even more. She plays a girl on the edge of a breakdown and really shines on screen. Like Fassbender, she gives her all for the role, exposing her true colors.
In just two films McQueen has established himself as a major player in the art house scene. Both films are festival favorites with critical praise, but the general public isn't ready for his heavy storytelling. With hope (and some financial backing) he will continue to make the films he wants to make and hopefully garner enough praise here in the states to win over more of the public. It's going to be hard if he keeps getting NC-17 ratings.
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