Rating: 8 out of 10
Human beings have a fear of facing life’s constant stresses. It’s not exactly a mystery why many turn to drugs, alcohol, or food to numb themselves and forget for a brief moment their own pain and fear. But what if sex was your drug of choice? That’s the question asked by director Steve McQueen who is proving that he might be a talent in cinema that is here to stay. Michael Fassbender’s character Brandon is a tortured soul. He has a good job, a beautiful New York City apartment, and a loving sister but he wanders through life as if nothing makes him happy. His entire existence centers around when he can have his next fix, which in this case is an orgasm. He lives on internet porn, prostitutes, constant masturbation, and the hope he can score another random lover before the night is out. He has no friends to speak of except for his boss David, who is married and a father but goes out to bars with Brandon just so he can live out another life and pick up women behind his wife’s back. The more I thought about their friendship the more I realized that it wasn’t real. Brandon used David so that while David would talk to women in his brash and overconfident way and Brandon could stand back and look like the quiet and innocent friend. Brandon could then scoop up the women that were turned off and viewed him in a better light so that he could get his fix.
The other main character in the picture is Brandon’s sister Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan. She, too, has a deep rooted pain that is relieved by sex but unlike Brandon, she doesn’t repress her emotions. Their relationship is strained but you can tell they truly care about one another. While it is never stated in the film, there is a definite sense that the two of them have been through some traumatic events in their lives that have lead them on this path. All of the actors are excellent, but I’m here to say that Michael Fassbender is becoming one of the best actors of his generation. There’s not very many talents that can convey emotion the way he does without saying anything at all. At a mere 35 years old, he has a lot of great films ahead of him.
Steve McQueen’s direction is spot on for a film like this. An NC-17 film based on sex addiction could have been a disaster in less patient hands but he adds a sense of class and restraint to the entire story. The camera will sit on static shots and let the actors play out their dialogue. Sometimes the camera is looking directly at their face, sometimes it’s their profile, or sometimes it’s from an odd angle. Each decision made by McQueen serves a purpose to help us feel what the characters are feeling. I also have a real issue with the MPAA. Their repulsion towards sexual material compared to their acceptance of violent material is laughable. “Shame” is an explicit film and contains some shocking moments but what exactly constituted the NC-17 rating? Male frontal nudity? The sex scenes are no more graphic than other films of this kind and I’ve heard explicit dialogue before in R-rated fare. Yet, “Passion of the Christ”, “Saving Private Ryan”, and “Natural Born Killers” are rated R. I’m sorry to go on a random rant but why is a film that contains sex treated more harshly? Are we really that repressed as a society? It’s a shame (no pun intended) that a thought-provoking film like this could reach less of an audience because it decided to deal with an issue that most film makers wouldn’t have had the guts to touch. It’s not a perfect film but it sure is brave.