For a film that is primarily about sex, Shame is remarkably un-sexy. And that is not without reason. Brandon is a sex addict, a man whose life is filled with sex but devoid of intimacy, who pursues one night stand after one night stand in search of anonymous, loveless sex.
|Michael Fassbender as Brandon on the set of SHAME. Photo by Abbot Genser.|
Those memories, and her presence, as well as a close call at work, lead Brandon to try to overcome his addiction. He throws away his extensive collection of pornography, even throws away his laptop computer to avoid temptation, and tries to go on a real date for the first time in years. But his attempts at reformation only go so far before the dark call of the past beckons him once more, and Brandon embarks on a journey even more degrading and dehumanizing than ever before. This time, though, the stakes are much higher, as his path of self-destruction threatens to not only bring him down, but the only person in the world that he truly loves.
|Carey Mulligan as Sissy on the set of SHAME. Photo by Abbot Genser.|
Brandon's sex addiction becomes self-destruction on a Shakespearean scale, but McQueen always plays it close to the chest. For all its inherent drama, Shame is a remarkably restrained film, atmospheric and often chilling. McQueen illustrates with a whisper rather than a shout, with faces rather than with dialogue. Fassbender and Mulligan are both stunning. Mulligan has an astonishing ability to communicate a lifetime's worth of pain for someone so young, and Fassbender, already having a terrific year, has never been better. Fox Searchlight's decision to release the film with an audience-limiting NC-17 rating has wisely allowed McQueen's powerful vision to remain intact. It isn't always an easy film to watch, but it is consistently engaging and even hypnotic. McQueen finds broken humanity amidst the depths of despair, and emerges with an exceptional film whose effects are hard to shake.
GRADE - ★★★½ (out of four)
SHAME | Directed by Steve McQueen | Stars Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale | Rated NC-17 for some explicit sexual content | Opens Friday, December 2, in select cities.