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Movie Review: Shame

In 2008’s Hunger, Michael Fassbender gave us a memorable and sympathizing portrayal of a man who would willingly starve himself to death. Shame’s Brandon, on the other hand, doesn’t bother with denying himself of life’s merry indulgences. To put it simply: Brandon loves sex. And he’s not picky about it either. As far as he’s concerned, the day isn’t over without a little you-know-what. And director Steve McQueen makes this very clear, visually. But alas, our 30-something professional doesn’t exactly reflect happiness (or any particular emotion, for that matter.) Not on the outside, at least. Things start to change with the abrupt arrival of his excitable sister (Carey Mulligan), whose presence seems to draw out a hidden storm under Brandon’s calm surface. This trait seems to run in the family at any rate, considering his sister is just as messed up as he is, albeit less subtle and in different ways.

Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan star in Shame. Photo courtesy of Alliance Films.

But don’t let the elaborate and unstable personalities throw you off, McQueen and his team keep the story flowing with the kind of dramatic grace and theatrical finesse that is long overdue in today’s cinema. At least that was my reaction. Maybe it was my appeal of long unbroken shots which are characteristic of McQueen’s films (Staring at Carey Mulligan’s face as she sings the ENTIRE Frank Sinatra song may seem boring to the average movie-goer but then again the average movie-goer probably wouldn’t have seen Shame. Why, even Brandon cried after that scene!) or it could be Harry Escott’s complementing score. I will admit however, that when the end credits started rolling, I couldn’t help feeling I was missing something important in the last few scenes. Or maybe it’s just open to interpretation. I’ll let you decide.

One thing I do know for certain is that Shame isn’t for everyone. I know the same can be said about pretty much every film but some people still tend to make rookie mistakes in selecting their companions when they watch movies. I witnessed a painfully awkward example during the screening when some guy sitting beside me decided it would be a good idea to bring his mother and grandmother along for the ride. I can only imagine his embarrassment when less than a minute into the opening shot of the film the viewers are already introduced to some male anatomy, courtesy of Mr. Fassbender. I also noticed that the mother would coincidentally go to the bathroom every time there was a love scene. Granny didn’t seem to mind, though.

As far as the performances go, you won’t be disappointed. Not only does Fassbender play a frighteningly convincing sex addict, he plays a likable one. Brandon’s moments of emotional anguish and his clumsy attempts to deal with his “situation” brings out the struggling humanity from within. As for his sister, the struggling humanity is already apparent on the outside, and she makes hardly any attempt to hide it. Ironically, we don’t find out that much about her. I personally would have wanted a bit more on her, other than just having her lounging around Brandon’s place to further the plot when necessary. But in the end she is just a part of Brandon’s story, and that’s what Shame really is. Brandon’s story. The story of a sex addict who, in the end, either gets better or gets worse. I haven’t figured that part out yet, but maybe that’s the brilliance of it.

Written by: David Anderson

[star v=4]

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