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I am truly shocked by the people criticizing this film for lack of
substance. I've seen comments about how there is limited dialogue, and
therefore no character development, and hardly any story. Did we watch
the same film? I'm thinking we must not have.
Shame dives into the life of a man living with an addiction to sex. The first 10 minutes of this movie effectively introduces him, his addiction, his relationship with humanity (sister included), and barely uses any words to do so. You shouldn't need a lot of dialogue when emotions are conveyed with facial expressions, effective cinematography, and great editing. This film is loaded with all of that.
Obviously films are subjective, but I feel those who say they didn't get to "know' the characters at all must always need everything spoon fed to them. I am not a sex addict, but still connected with both Fassbender and Mulligan. I found the development both subtle and extremely realistic. Does everything need to always have that Hollywood ending? Should everything get wrapped up nicely and leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling when you walk out of the theater? I definitely don't think so.
Anybody who does need that probably shouldn't watch any Steve McQueen films. Anyone who can appreciate a raw, subtle, and beautifully made film should go watch Shame.
Despite having never seen Steve McQueen's Hunger, the smouldering and
sensational acclaim for Shame was simply unreal. Having heard terrific
things about the film, I ventured out and snagged a last minute ticket
to the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Weeks
later, I am still trying to decipher what may be one of the most
shocking and raw films I have seen in quite some time.
The titular Shame in question is what Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a posh yuppie living in New York City, must live with every day. He is a sex addict, and his addiction knows no bounds. His estranged sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) has also just dropped by his apartment for an extended stay, making things all the worse.
The plot may not sound like much, because there really is not all that much to it storywise. Shame is more of a portrait of a man struggling with his inner demons than it is anything else. There is a story at its very core, but the primary focus is always on Brandon, his addiction and what boundaries and limits it pushes him to. I had read about some of the more "unconventional" and decidedly non-mainstream sexual escapades (for lack of a better word) Brandon gets himself into, but I was still incredibly surprised and downright shocked by just how far McQueen goes with this character. He is brazen and uninhibited in what he shows on screen, bravely defying the conventions of what we typically can and cannot see in mainstream cinema. McQueen does not shy away from hard truths, and does not even try to mask the explicit nature of some of the sexual acts. Seeing how far Brandon will go to satisfy and suppress himself is simply harrowing, not unlike films like Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream were with their characters' drug addictions.
While the film and its frank depiction of sexuality are sometimes difficult to watch, I found myself mesmerized by the choreography and cinematography at play throughout. McQueen frames the film with the audience in the position of a voyeur. Early on, we see Brandon's morning routine, featuring Fassbender roaming around his chic apartment totally naked. We see him at his most honest and his most vulnerable, a man who is unable to hide the truth about himself. Later, we watch him as he interacts with his office co-workers from behind huge glass windows, and from a table across from him at a restaurant while he is on a date. McQueen uses a lot of unbroken shots to help depict this slice of Brandon's life through tracking shots and an immense amount of long shots. They help set the very somber mood, and allow the audience to continue watching as if they were an actual character peering into the events that transpire for him. McQueen also expertly uses music to help dictate the action on screen, tearing away the dialogue or sounds of the scene. It makes for an awkward feeling, but one that evokes a response with every new scene.
But for all of the shock and audacity, McQueen still managed to make a deeply troubled film that leaves a lot unsaid, and even more unresolved. He does not give out simple answers for what causes Brandon's addiction, or even the reasoning behind the troubled and strained relationship between Brandon and Sissy. While leaving some things enigmatic and up to the viewers to decide (many have already voiced their concerns regarding incest, which seem a bit too outrageous for this kind of film) is incredibly intriguing and help further propel the voyeuristic means of viewing the film, it also makes for maddening thoughts afterwards. What exactly is McQueen trying to say? What is the point he is trying to make? It all feels like it builds towards nothing outside of an unsatisfying and deludingly ambiguous climax. As mentioned earlier, it feels like the story and just about everything else came second to the portrait he wanted to paint through Fassbender's canvas. I can appreciate the film as it is, but it makes it hard to love it the way I thought I would.
Fassbender is stunning as Brandon, magnetizing the audience from the beginning all the way to the end. He propels the film, using his reactions and emotions to define the character. He makes Brandon's struggle one that is very real, and almost horrific. He is unable to feel intimacy, and watching him struggle to fulfill his urges is fascinating and deeply disturbing all at once. Watching his face through candid closeups, you can see just how much raw power went into the role. But while it is a stellar and tortured performance that more than proves his weight as an up and coming actor, I never found him to be nearly as incredibly impressive as we know he can be. I still find myself at odds with how great it was, and how much greater it could have been.
While James Badge Dale is effective in his small role as Brandon's smarmy and sleazy boss David, it is Mulligan who truly compliments Fassbender. Her role does not ask a whole lot of her, but her pained expressions and infinite desire to be loved by everyone is more than enough to make this a memorable turn for her. While the full frontal nudity was near useless, I only wish that she could have done more.
Shame is a very well done film, but one that will divide audiences. On one hand, it is an expertly crafted film about addiction that packs a great lead performance. On the other hand, it is a maddening film that answers very little it asks and sometimes shocks just for the sake of it. It is an impressive feat for a second feature, but one that I think could have been even better.
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
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.
"Shame" centers on Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a lonely, self- alienated man in his thirties who tries his best to appear as your average New Yorker with an office job whenever he finds himself out in public. The trouble with this young man-- or his tragic flaw-- is that whenever he finds a minute of privacy in his day, he hastily delves into his own fabricated reality: a world of excessive sex, pornography, and masturbation. The day Brandon's distressed, disruptive sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) barges into his condo looking for a place to stay until things wind down and her sorrows disappear, his life begins to spiral out of control. He grows increasingly frustrated with her as he feels her invasive presence will bring about the exposure of his deepest and darkest secrets. However, we see that this is just a manifestation of his feelings of intense shame and regret for leading the sad, artificial life he believes is the only one fit for him. Steve McQueen has the sheer audacity to go where very few filmmakers have dared to go before by making a film about sexual addiction and its effects on the human mind. In this ambitious boldness, he doesn't want to hold back on anything and he isn't afraid to show everything, so the result is a film with enough full nudity and explicit sexual content to receive an R-rating in Canada, which would probably translate to an NC- 17 rating in the US, unfortunately. There are several scenes in the film where you literally see every inch of skin on the bodies of the actors (Fassbender is probably the most physically exposed). Having said that, this is never something that comes across as frivolous and it only enhances the film's shock factor as a whole. Michael Fassbender delivers the performance of a lifetime in "Shame", and I currently can't see anyone else winning the Oscar for Best Actor at the upcoming Academy Awards. He seems to understand his sad, lonely character just as well as the screenwriters who gave birth to him (Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen). Brandon is his own worst enemy, for he longs to find solace in someone and discover genuine human affection, but the other side of him remains too caught up in a shameful world detached from real feelings and emotions. There are some scenes in the film where we, the audience, are left alone with nothing but his introspective, subdued presence as he reflects upon his actions in regret. These scenes say more than most movies can say within their entirety. It's thanks to Michael Fassbender's pitch-perfect performance that we can step into his character's shoes and get to feel what he's feeling. They say actions speak more than words; with "Shame", acting speaks more than the inclusion of any sort of narration ever would. Don't worry; I didn't forget about Carey Mulligan! I thought I would highlight her performance separately, too. If I had to say only one thing about it, I would emphasize how amazed I was at seeing her in such an unusual, singular role. She has a tendency to play soft-spoken, prim and proper characters-- but that's not the case with "Shame". She really submerges herself into this disastrous, uncontrollable mess of a young woman who never conceals her deepest feelings to the world-- be it joy or sorrow. There's this one very memorable scene in the film where she sings her own rendition of the jazz standard "New York, New York" in a lounge (she's a singer who does gigs here and there), and for the duration of the song, the camera stays focused on her face. There are no cuts nor camera movements for a good five minutes (of course, this won't come as a big shock to you if you have seen Steve McQueen's "Hunger"), yet somehow, this scene is absolutely mesmerizing-- almost hypnotizing. Just the way she naturally glances about apprehensively as this beautiful voice is unleashed (although it probably isn't hers) is enough to send shivers down your spine. What can I say about all the other aspects of the film? Well, since Steve McQueen was the man behind the direction and shot composition, it's no big surprise that "Shame" is expertly crafted in every little detail. McQueen used the same cinematographer (Sean Bobbitt) and editor (Joe Walker) of his first feature to achieve the same impressive aesthetic look. Some parts of the film must have required so much time and effort from the editor, it's hard to believe what was accomplished! As for the cinematography, I'm sure you'll be floored by it within the first five minutes of the film. In this opening scene, Brandon finds himself staring at a woman sitting across from him as he is riding the subway. He misunderstands her frightened glances and nervous attempts to display her wedding ring as romantic advances, so when she gets off in a panic at the next stop, he immediately follows her. In one of the most beautiful, gliding shots I've ever witnessed-- with an emotionally shattering musical composition by Harry Escott playing all throughout-- we see Brandon running up the station stairs and looking around for the woman, only to realize that she had run away from him. His failure to comprehend human interactions in this scene already gives us a distinct perception on this poor character's serious vulnerability. In sum, Steve McQueen's "Shame" is a masterful character study with top- grade performances from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan and a raw power unmatched by any other film I've seen. This is surely not a film for everyone, as it deals with dark, gritty topics often labeled as far too controversial for the big screen. But if you're open to true cinema, here's a devastating powerhouse of a film that will chill you to the bone and forever stay with you.
Brandon seems to be successful in life: a steady job, a nice apartment,
good friends and success with women. But something prevents Brandon
from having a relationship that lasts more than four months, this
incapacity is due to the fact that Brandon is a sex addict: to casual
encounters with strangers and prostitutes, to pornography (both during
and after working hours), to masturbation. And to some extent he seems
to have his addiction under control, until her sister Sissy arrives
unexpectedly looking for a place to live for a while.
Under this premise British director Steve McQueen delivers a fascinating character study which explores how modern life (in which new technologies play a major role), increasingly isolates people and makes them unable to establish emotional bonds with others. In the case of Brandon, a hunter in search of pleasure and not love, the arrival of his sister will make him prey of his emotions and will make him face his reality.
One aspect that has caused controversy is the way so raw and explicit to show Brandon's sexual encounters, however this becomes a necessary element, since it is through them that you can see Brandon's need and desperation as Sissy is more involved in his life. Special mention deserves the dynamics established between them, since it is fully nuanced and can even be uncomfortable to witness but is devastatingly emotional(especially in the last minutes of the story).
However, the most important element for the success of the film lies in the performances: in the hands of less committed actors Brandon and Sissy's conflicts would be unconvincing, but McQueen wisely chooses Michael Fassbender (both had previously worked together on Hunger), who literally bares body and soul to take Brandon's emotions to the limit and does it so impressively in a brave and courageous performance (and unfortunately the Academy possibly considered too intense for consideration in their nominations). Meanwhile Carey Mulligan proves to be one of the young actresses with the best prospects and acting range nowadays: her rendition of the classic song New York, New York is an utter delight as well is one of the best scenes in the film.
Shame, in the end (as in most character studies) does not seek to create empathy for the characters, but rather wants us to reflect and ask ourselves how we would react in similar situations.
This was not an easy film to watch and even less easy to reflect on. However, I thought it was a great film. Original and brave. The acting was totally convincing and the theme important and challenging. The repeated reminders of the hypocrisy of our society regarding sex and violence were clever and uncomfortable. I was very disappointed, but not surprised, that this film received no recognition at the awards ceremony. Normally, "sex, sells" is written on the heart of all promoters. But not in this case, as it is not at all titillating. A genuinely adult film (not the usual meaning). Fine performances from Michael Fassbinder and Carry Mulligan.
Steve McQueen made a real impact in the film world with his powerful
debut Hunger. But like with musicians, there is always the risk that a
director's second film will not live up to the high expectations the
first effort sets. Yet McQueen has a good go with his dark exploration
of human character in Shame.
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a successful and well off man living in New York City. He is also a sex addict who constantly picks up women, hires prostitutes, views internet porn daily and masturbates at any given opportunity. It affects his day to day life and he lives a lonely existence. His life is made more complex when his singer sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), a woman with obvious problems, crashes at his place. She interferes with his life, including sleeping with his boss, David (James Badge Dale) and sets Brandon off to tackle his addiction.
Brandon is depicted as a really despicable character, but he is a man struggling with an addiction. There is a number of sexual scenes throughout Shame, but there is no eroticism as Brandon explores more depraved and disgusting acts and his life spirals out of control. Shame plays as a drug addition movie, similar to Requiem for a Dream as someone struggles to give up something hazardous.
Fassbender offers a powerful performance as a dark, sinister man with strong interplay with Mulligan as he becomes threatening towards her. Compare him to Mulligan, a much more brittle character, on the edge for different reason. She gives a heartbreaking performance as a woman who does not know how to do deal with problems and has a sadness in her eyes. Their scenes were enhanced by McQueen's direction, using hand held cameras to follows Fassbender and the conversations stick to one point, making you feel like you are really watching them in a voyeuristic matter. This makes the movie more tense as the tone changes in an instant.
McQueen employs a grainy filter, giving Shame a dark, grim look which is perfectly fitting considering the atmosphere of the movie. The visuals have a similar feel and tone as other gritty and grim New York set films such as Taxi Driver, Midnight Cowboy and American Psycho, all of which follow the horrible underbelly of the city. He has shown that he is a great actors' director, but McQueen also had some great visuals, such as a long tracking shot of Brandon jogging and Brandon watching two people having sex in their apartment.
There are many moments in the movie that have little dialogue, relying on Fassbender superb abilities as an actor, particularly key in the beginning and during a long montage of Brandon wandering alone in New York, playing like a scene in the great novel Last Exit to Brooklyn. This is a movie about Brandon's continuing descent and self-sabotage and Fassbender should hopefully gain an Oscar nomination to back up his award buzz in Europe.
Shame continues McQueen's reputation as being one of the best emerging directors around, sticking to his no holds barred, brutal style which keeps a stage play quality to the presentation. Shame is tough, but worthy just for Fassbender's performance and keeps to a tradition of grim New York based film.
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This film instantly drew me in. Fassbender's performance is complex and truly believable.I can honestly say that if you are not haunted by the torment of both Michael Fassbender's and Carey Mulligan's performance, then you are in denial. The pain is apparent, the intrigue of what happened to these siblings is staring you in the face throughout the film. The role's Fassbender has chosen lately have made me an ultimate fan! Another McQueen movie, HUNGER, also stars Fassbender as an Irishman in political protest against the corrupt government of the "80's. I tremendously enjoy watching him on the screen. Michael Fassbender relays raw emotion and true passion to create believable and relatable characters. Im looking forward to future projects.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Masterpiece? Really? I had expectations after seeing the trailer and
having seen Fassbender play in other movies, but boy was I
disappointed! Not by the actors, even though I thought Carey Mulligan
was better in other movies, Michael Fassebender is actually the only
good thing I kept from the movie. Thhe story doesn't go anywhere in my
opinion. McQueen only gives glimpses of few things that are abandoned
right away like his relationship to his colleague, his family past, his
sister (wasn't it the center point of the movie, to have a situation
where she disturbs everything? she's not present enough for me). I
would have preferred to have shorter or fewer sex scenes (all the sex
showed does not serve the story that much after a while we've seen it
all!) and more deeper views on Brandon's relationships.
I don't mind to see a dark movie (actually I usually appreciate it), or a slow movie where it's more about contemplating, getting close to the characters to feel what it's about. But "Shame" didn't get me at all, I was just glad when it was over, a bit mad to have paid a ticket, and very disappointed.
Michael Fassbender's commitment is overwhelming. He must trust his director, implicitly. Good for him. Very rarely we've been exposed to so much sex without an ounce of erotic flavors. Well, that was not the intention, clearly. This is a remarkably serious film about addiction.To make matters even darker I had seen Michael Fassbender as Jung only a few days before. What an actor! Now I feel I'm as familiar with his anatomy as Mrs. Fassbender must be. I must admit the film stayed with me because within its mathematical coldness there is a palpable element of horror. Was it me or Fassbender shows the face of death in one of the many sexual occasions? Chilling really. I will take my chances and recommend it, as long as you don't take your children - I guess you can't NC17 - or your grandparents.
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