Thursday, January 26, 2012

Though Fassbender Hangs Dong, It's Tough to Get Super Aroused Over Shame

     Director Steve McQueen's first film, Hunger, was released in 2008 to critical and film festival acclaim. It also starred Michael Fassbender, portraying Bobby Sands, an IRA member who started a hunger strike in prison (along with a no-wash protest). Sands was a Republican trying to regain political status when, in 1976, the British Government took it away. The film was honest and brutal and filmed in such an unflinching way that it was impossible to look in the other direction, no matter how badly you might like to. McQueen's second and newest film, Shame, is profoundly similar: starring Michael Fassbender as a sex addict whose sole purpose in life seems to be reaching sexual climax, the film shows an honest portrait of an addict throughout every dirty, shameful and pleasure-inducing moment in his daily life. It's a tough but worthwhile watch.
     Brandon (Fassbender) is a man in his 30's living in a clean and bright (you can almost smell the Lysol and Scrubbing Bubbles) apartment in New York City. He works with a computer all day long for an upscale company that deals with stocks or whatever. The viewer doesn't really care what Brandon does for a job, because Brandon doesn't care what he does for a job. The only jobs he cares about is hand and blow--maybe foot too, but the film doesn't delve that far into unique fetishes. Brandon wakes up in the morning and jerks off in the shower. He goes to work and uses the bathroom stall to conceal his masturbation. He gets home from work, immediately opens his laptop and cuffs it to live porno video feeds. Sometimes he goes out with his boss and picks up girls who he fucks in various locations, positions and holes. It does not matter to Brandon. Getting off is his only way to get through the day.
    Shame is not funny (at least not in the LOL! sense), nor is it supposed to be. Brandon's addiction is treated the same as a heroin user or a crack fiend. At first he has it somewhat in control (if you can call wanking it at work under control), but that all changes once his sister, Sissy (played wonderfully incestuous and needy by Carey Mulligan, the it-girl of indie films lately), re-enters his life and starts crashing at his apartment, which consequently crashes the perfected routine of Brandon's orgasm-obsessed life. Like most addicts, thing's fall into a downward spiral quickly once he stops getting exactly what he want's when he wants it.

     Shame isn't like most theatrical films dealing with sex. For instance, it's rated the dreaded (for box-office earnings) NC-17. The only reason it expanded to more than a few select cities is because of it's attention by the awards season ceremonies and the unflinching performances. And boy does it earn its NC-17 rating: filled with penis, pussy and dozens of minutes of intense sexual encounters of varying degree and danger, Shame isn't going to be a big hit among people who get uncomfortable looking at naked bodies (religious people). There are also scenes of extremely graphic sexual talk and there's even some homosexual plowing and blowjobs, so if that sort of thing offends you (religious people), Shame isn't a good choice for your Friday night movie.
     The film is--obviously--buoyed by Fassbender's performance and McQueen's direction. For being an art-house type movie director, McQueen is good at staying away from the normal pretentiousness that can bog down many a film. He shows a scene, and we form our own opinions. There are no political ideals present, no hatred towards its characters, no viewpoints other than what our eyes can see. Shame looks slick, and every camera angle looks like it perfectly fits into the bigger puzzle of the whole film. The camera staying on Brandon's face during an intense climax, the camera spinning to show the engagement ring of a flirtatious girl, the camera fixating on a broken don't walk sign--all of these are equally important and all mean something.
     Fassbender: wow, that man has some testicular fortitude to take on a role such as this. The movie, at its center, is about suffering. Suffering from an addiction that can't be tamed, no matter how many times Brandon gets off on a given day. We see him at his most private, embarrassing moments, and the great Fassbender acts them out with honesty and skill. Get this man some recognition. However, there is a bigger question when it comes to Shame: is it enjoyable? Well, that just depends on what your idea of enjoyable really is. It's all relative. If you enjoy good film making, acting, and stories about addiction, the film should be just your cup of tea. If you don't enjoy depressing, tough films about real subject matter, I'd suggest grabbing a ticket for another film (I hear Red Tails is out). Me: Shame is great, Shame is intense, but Shame is a tough watch. I respected it and liked it a whole lot, but wouldn't go far enough to say I loved it.     (B)

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