on 14 February 2015
* Contains possible spoilers
Well, I finally got round to seeing this film. It didn't get a release at my multiplex in the sticks and the local library didn't have the DVD despite saying it was in stock. Maybe the theme & story about a sex addict and his equally dysfunctional sister deemed this film 'too disturbing'. This is ironic because the film is far from titillating despite the subject matter.
I enjoyed the film. For a film about sex addiction, the truth, as said by many others, is that it isn't very arousing. Instead, the sex is cold, unemotional. Something has happened to Brandon & his sister, Sissy, it is briefly alluded to in a phone message when Sissy tells her brother, 'we aren't bad people, we just come from a bad place.' A brother & sister, the film began to remind me of 'Festen', what happens to the siblings there, & Henry James' 'Turn of the Screw.'
The film is about a man in constant motion, sex/on the subway/work/jogging, his constant preoccupation with sex (masturbation, pornography, random pick-ups in a bar & consorting with prostitutes) seems like an escape. From what? Himself? His past? Reality? The film is about Brandon's emotional repression and vulnerability as well as his relationship with his fragile unstable sister. Brandon is restless. Why? Perhaps because he is afraid to think, which might meaning confronting himself & some unrevealed deep psychological hurt. And so, instead, he exists in some private hell.
Matters are complicated by the arrival of his sister. Every time, Sissy tries to get close, even climbing into Brandon's bed, possibly to seek comfort & protection, he reacts with aggression and pushes her away. Ironically, when he shouts at her to think, as he watches a cartoon (a reflection of his distorted life, love & sex) he provokes the final dramatic conclusion and it's a credit to Steve McQueen that we do (well, I did) care for these two apparently mal-adjusted individuals, one a sex-addict, the other, an unstable young woman.
How should we judge Brandon? Well, I don't think the director necessarily does. In fact, I felt more sympathetic towards Brandon, though this is a man who uses prostitutes, than his unfaithful boss & his double standards. In his emotional dark authenticity, Brandon is like a self portrait by Egon Schiele: unflattering but truthful.
Brandon, played by the gifted Michael Fassbender, does try to form a 'normal' relationship, with moments of comedy (his conversational-killing line dismissing marriage in the restaurant) & ironically, this attempt is doomed as he goes through the motions as if trying to convince himself and suffers an emotional block.
He finally endures a dark night of the soul, this is sex as some kind of purge. I liked the ending, with the girl on the subway train, seen at the beginning. I read an interesting interview with the actress, who makes a great impact with such a short role, that the young woman, too, has been on some kind of journey. Initially scared, she now seems ready for Brandon's attentions, his hunger, (as if a play on Steve McQueen's first film). But the ending is ambiguous. Is Brandon ready for an adult relationship where he will be left vulnerable? Is it just going to be another fling that goes nowhere? Is he indifferent?
I don't know, except I like McQueen's work.
This is a film that is raw, bleak and, as long as you are happy with the subject matter, compelling too. Brandon is a successful New York businessman working in a modern office and clearly well paid. Privately, he lives alone in a bijou apartment. His troubled sister, a nightclub singer, visits unexpectedly seeking temporary refuge from - what? possibly an unhappy love affair. This is unwelcome. Brandon's lifestyle is that of a sex addict, with frequent visits from prostitutes and a huge stash of girlie magazines and porn DVDs. Cissie is clearly vulnertable and damaged ; he appears not to be, but in a different way is just as unhappy - as he discovers in the course of the film. It's a very watchable but sad and rather sordid tale with no easy ending. The main players, Michael Fassbender (Brandon) and Corey Mulligan (Cissie) bare all literally and emotionally in the course of the film, which is well shot and convincing. I was held by it, but whether I enjoyed it is another matter - this film is not 'fun' ; but as a skilful expose of a doomed lifestyle, it works.
on 21 May 2014
The acting and directing of this film is simply outstanding. McQueen is both brutal and frighteningly realistic in his representation of a repressed and corrupt side of the human psyche. I felt that the gradual and steady pace of the film, whilst creating suspense, added an even greater level of realism, which is very apt when portraying such a raw and graphic concept.
In terms of sexual content and nudity: the film is an 18, it is to be expected. Additionally, whilst the entirety of 'Shame' is structured around and based explicitly on sex, I felt that the core message of the film was nothing to do with sex at all. Sex is instead a tool to facilitate and express the harsh and sometimes painfully blunt realities of addiction and all that is bound up within it. Therefore, the scenes of sex, masturbation and pornography are not in the slightest romanticised, but honest, candid and as a result, uncomfortable to watch.
'Shame' is stripped bare to minimal dialogue and few main characters, ultimately allowing the exposure of a greatly thought provoking and emotive representation of the realities and consequences of addiction. A brilliant film.
This is a wonderful, powerful film which made a great impression when shown at the Leeds Film Festival in late 2011.
Brandon, brilliantly played by Fassbinder, works in New York in an unspecified job, but he is clearly successful and on the top table. His relationships at work are defined by his position in the hierarchy: his boss is his mate, but it is pretty clear that Brandon is eager to please him and that they are certainly not close. He has a series of sexual relationships with women in the film which are driven purely by sexual gratification: he visits prostitutes, seems skilled at picking up women in social encounters for no-strings sex and is clearly heavily into porn sites, including webcams and chat. He is sexually predatory, but only in seeking consensual sex. His home laptop 'sleeps' in porn access mode, it seems, and his boss complains that Brandon's computer check reveals a hard drive swamped with extreme porn: responsibility is deflected onto a recent intern. His flat is clean, characterless and monochrome: there are no signs that any of his frequent encounters leave any trace in his domestic life and it seems little more than a space to live in.
Into this emotional desert arrives his sister, Cissy, a singer. Despite her need for somewhere to stay, he is so determined on keeping his life uncluttered by an fetters, emotional or otherwise, that his agreement is only reluctantly given and given with very bad grace. Cissy's presence in his life once more and the emotional neediness which comes with it is something he can barely tolerate, not because it is simply inconvenient but because it stirs up unspecified emotional trauma from the past. She self-harms, desperately needs warmth from someone, but Brandon is unwilling or unable to provide it. Her presence in the film, and that of a co-worker, Marianne, with whom he has something approaching an affectionate encounter, are the catalysts for a deeply painful epiphany for Brandon. He cannot access the tenderness which Marianne offers and is forced to face Cissy's profound sadness in dramatic fashion.
In fact, the film is framed by representative encounters: Brandon pursues (metaphorically and then literally) a woman on the subway. They exchange looks full of sexual energy. At the end of the film, the same woman sees him again and this time initiates the gaze. The difference in his reaction is a measure of the change within him and a sense of his insight into his predicament. But any change is as ill-defined and lightly suggested as the root causes of the siblings' profound unhappiness: a number of possible causes of this occur to the viewer as the film progresses, but I would suggest that the the lack of clarity here is important to the film's effect. (At one point Cissy says, 'We're not bad people: just come from a bad place.') This film is not an advert for the successes of quick fix therapy, nor is it judgemental and disapproving.
As well as Fassbender's mesmerising performance, Cary Mulligan as Cissy is also outstanding: there is a wonderful scene where she sings in pretty relentless close-up 'New York, New York', not as a high-octane celebration of the city but as a poignant appeal for connection. (There has been some negative comment about her rendering of the song: if you actually read the lyrics, which refer to 'little town blues', and a desire to 'wake up in a city,......, To find I'm king of the hill, Head of the list, Cream of the crop, At the top of the heap,' it seems to me that her approach is entirely in keeping. Someone is depressed and is desperate for the transformation that somehow easily and passively, just being in this city will achieve. It doesn't seem to be the solution for Brandon or Cissy because, of course, change generally comes from within and they, like the rest of us, carry their baggage with them!) In my opinion the song is superbly done and very moving. The film is brilliantly shot too with a great eye for formal structures and a palette generally bled of brightness and warmth. There are long takes, such as Brandon's jogging, which capture perfectly his isolation and essential aimlessness.
Bleak stuff? Undoubtedly, though not quite as bleak as Bergman's similarly titled film. But riveting, involving and affecting. It is completely unerotic, and I'm reluctant to describe it as a film 'about a sex addict' which simultaneously might be see as a come-on by some, and an oversimplification by me, mistaking the wound for the real illness. Perhaps describing it as a film about alienation and emotional disengagement is nearer the mark.
I can't wait to see it a second time! A minor masterpiece!
on 18 November 2014
For a film that portrays the existential life of a 30-something sexually-primed yet emotionally repressed man, Steve McQueen manages to extrapolate and convey even the most rawest of feelings to exact degree. Motion pictures have seldom managed to keep me truly engrossed right to the very end and leave me lost for words in the process. A progressive and bleak drama of this kind is a rarity for me to watch, but as soon as the end credits rolled I found myself in stark awe at the gravitas of McQueen's filmmaking while soulless and exhausted at the sheer hopelessness and disparity of Fassbender's performance of Brandon, in which the culmination of it all hit me like a tonne of bricks.
All the elements of a solid drama are well-grounded: the cinematography captures plush, elegant interiors of jazzy evening lounges right to the monochromatic, empty vessel of Brandon's apartment which houses only his apathetic skin. Gritty New York back streets and grey skyline views over parkways don't just lie in the backdrop and support environmental context; they bolster character troubles and lifestyles. It prevents the film from being a caricature in itself and plunges us right into the everyday solidarity of Brandon's life.
The script is polished and matured, never wasting a single line and providing enough depth for each character; Brandon's employment occupation is irrelevant here to an extent, and McQueen is skilful enough to only deliver snippets of his workplace integrity whilst avoiding complete deviation from the premise at hand. Sissy (Carey Mulligan) is also given plenty of realistic background for us. It structures the choreography to a brilliant, clinical exaction; each dramatic moment embedded in real life troubles precedes and succeeds each other with extremely efficient scene cohesion. Though there are two main characters for this film, all however are merely conduits through which the volatile and unstable foundation of Brandon's life is rocked to a tumultuous climax.
The sexuality portrayed aims not to arouse, far from it. The scenes of masturbation are done to discomfort. Orgasm sounds that emanate from Brandon's laptop are haunting. Aggressiveness plagues his face when he climaxes; he seeks only that momentary carnal satisfaction which fills what abyss there is inside him, everything else is null and void. There is nothing to be impressed about in his lifestyle; his skilled ability to naturally pick up women at bars and gain flirtatious looks on subways are merely a facade, for behind those eyes lies coldness, evident from the way he says very little in conversations, gazes without smiling and has sex with very little passion conveyed.
The acting is stellar and consistent; Mulligan's performance of Sissy as the wayward, dependant sister who possesses an ability to channel her desolate soul into her incredibly yet poignant version of a New York jazz classic is believable and striking. But the real crown jewel of this motion picture is Fassbender's extremely impressive portrayal of Brandon; from the outset a man verging on the brink of inner self destruction, who wakes up every morning with pensiveness descending his face. Holding it all together, pleasing his sexual desires by indulging in Internet pornography, masturbation and liaisons with multiple paper-thin hearted women, he does not know how to love. Sympathy and affection are alien to him. He questions and scrutinises the ideas of monogamy and shys away from any possible indication of such being presented before retorting back into his shell; his safe haven. This is his life. When his sister arrives it rocks the boat further enough to capsize him into a maelstrom of pessimistic thoughts and emotions of vulnerability and weakness. The bubble he has encased himself in, he cannot escape due to his own thoughts; he has developed a mental stigma only he seems to comprehend while in the process reaffirming in through his repetitive actions. The grey filters which subtly blend in with his similarly-hued scarf seem to provide a comfort, sadly. As if this complex problem is a burden he carries everywhere; it reassures his mental thought processes and shields his heart symbiotically. And it's always there. All of this is made ever more hard hitting and soul-enduring by the film's soundtrack, particularly Harry Escott's piece called Unravelling; a 9-minute long rendition of mundane, modern life regularity of clock-ticking which evolves into a draining and heartbreaking symphony of cello and deep bass that post-crescendo of a sharply piercing melody (akin to that of an obituary to grievance,) returns back to its beginning clockwork rhythm, signifying a cyclical pattern Brandon is caught in, bolstered further by its playback in full at the beginning and at the end of the movie.
From melancholic stares at the ceiling in cold winter mornings to cries of desperation on the abandoned, dump-strewn walkways, it didn't just hit my heart and soul, it tore them both out and left them there dying on the floor. And it did it incredibly well. When a movie manages to do just that as intended, it's already there to gaining high-ranking status. Perhaps this is a sombre homage to many other men out there enduring the same experiences.
Steve McQueen is deserving of a standing ovation for this incredibly moving masterpiece. This is unquestionably one of the best films I have ever seen, coming from a man who has watched many staple motion pictures spanning genres and cultural statuses far and wide. It's a film I will not forget, nor that I will want to. Every time I watch it now, it will strike a chord as harsh, possibly harsher, than the last one. It's poetically poignant while being graphically harsh. It delivers a message home with sensitivity but with punchiness simultaneously. It's an over-shadowed gem which over time will mature to be an ever-more relevant showcasing of an outward, financial successful man with an inner mentality which is greatly fractured.
on 21 January 2013
After hearing a lot of great things about Shame, I have to say I came away from it slightly disappointed. The story follows sex-addict Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender), whose mundane and brutal existence is interrupted by the arrival of his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan). The film exposes the sordid underbelly of Manhattan and follows the breakdown of the relationship between the two siblings, as Brandon becomes increasingly irritated and suffocated by Sissy's presence.
McQueen purposely leaves out the protagonists' back-story, leaving it up to the viewer to imagine what 'shameful' upbringing led to their neurotic and isolated adult lives. The problem I had with this was that it was hard to feel any sort of empathy for the siblings as they unravelled desperately throughout the film, or to feel any emotional response towards them by the end. Thus when Sissy did her (agonisingly) slow rendition of `New York, New York' which brings Brandon to tears, I was left emotionally cold and slightly bored. Also, although I found the majority of the sex-scenes important in revealing Brandon's desires and motivations, I found myself really irritated by the final threesome, which dragged on forever and seemed entirely gratuitous. I was not convinced by the casting choice of having Mulligan play Sissy, as I did not find her quite manic or desperate enough and she appeared slightly one-dimensional throughout.
Having said that, there were a lot of great moments in the film - Fassbender's acting was phenomenal throughout and the film was well-paced and shot beautifully - showing the gritty underside of urban life and the cold, bare monotonous routine of Brandon's sex-obsessed existence. The relationship between Sissy and Brandon was compelling (and uncomfortable) to watch; plagued by need, anger and incestuous desire. The most interesting parts of the film were the scenes between Brandon and his recently separated co-worker, Marianne, as they debated the point of monogamy in modern life, and eventually embarked on a doomed sexual encounter. Although I thought the film had its flaws, Steve McQueen's directorial style was unique, beautifully real and definitely thought-provoking, which made them somewhat forgivable.
Shame has a brilliant performance from Michael Fassbender but in the end I find it a bit disappointing, having heard many good things about it. The string music has an earnestness a bit like Arvo Part that is quite grating, as it keeps announcing that we are meant to take everything very seriously, but in the end there is more atmosphere than substance. By not filling us in on the background of the brother and sister Steve McQueen seems to suggest that we should not be trying to explain too much, or if we do, it should be purely in terms of the environment. Admittedly this is dismal, with a totally soulless 'chic' that is meant to seem desirable but is completely empty. As for the sex addiction, Brandon seems a bit too driven for his own good and to have a block against anything meaningful occurring, which the film doesn't really explore. What is more problematic, for me, is that I suspect we are meant to find the well-heeled bars and the kind of people in them attractive, whereas to me this whole world is fairly dreadful. Brandon's boss is quite dislikeable, I think, his manner with women crude, and just a reflection of his outsize ego - he has a wife and children at home already. And the woman Brandon goes on a date with is presumably meant to seem like an open, loving person who is 'in touch with her emotions' and a good thing, if only Brandon realised it ... Once again I found this not to be the case; her coyness seemed a bit smug, and in the restaurant they were both rather cold to the waiter - something I never like - being very 'private' and above making an effort - except from her to Brandon. When the waiter asked how they were they didn't even deign to answer except with a rather cool thank you from her as she took the menu, effectively cutting him dead. Terrible behaviour! Actually this is more shocking than the three-in-a-bed, making lewd comments to strange women at bars and getting kicked in by their boyfriends, sex in front of the window (no curtains) and - heaven forfend! - a desperate encounter in a gay club, but I don't think the film sees it like this. The film's perspective seems skewed in favour of moody self-indulgence, and really looks at life and sex from the wrong angle. In fact it never shows us any alternative to the bump-and-grind it affects to critique, but slyly presents as a bit of an existential trip. Having said all this, I did enjoy Fassbender's performance; it isn't, however, one of the great New York films for me.
on 29 August 2015
What I don't like about this film is that, by the way it is directed, the silent scenes, the shocking provocations, the "intense" actors, you might expect s higher and more original subject and point of view. INsteas it results into a empty box, so fascinatin on the surface, but with nothing original inside. All the stuff about sex, alienation, solitude in the city, is to my a very clichè and deja vu stuff, which add nothing if not showing a famous actors in naked and sex scenes. And I don't think that showing sexual ambiguity and perversion is a sign of originality or deep thinking. It's just showing off.... Very good blu ray
on 17 July 2015
I read the reviews before buying this and the vast majority were more than positive , so , being a fan of Michael Fassbender I bought a 'used' copy for less than three pounds. However having just endured the non stop tedium of having watched it , I can honestly say that I wasted my money, unfortunately I also wasted the time it took to watch it. Its very rare that I fail to watch a movie all-the-way through , but I have to say, several times during this I was very tempted.
Whilst the acting is perfectly fine , theres absolutely nothing to hold your interest . Fassbender's character is a man obsessed with sex, his waking hours are spent watching it ,or engaging in it. At one point his character admits to a very attractive date that he doesn't see any point in relationships, and several times we see him engaging in sex with prostitutes - presumably this is to avoid any emotional ties. Its during the sex scenes that this film is shown to be at its worst. Little is left to the imagination during the sex scenes and credit to Fassbender for agreeing to full frontal nudity but the direction of these acts is done in such a way that the act itself is dull and insipid, how any director can make sex boring , is beyond me, and yet steve Mcqueen (the director - not the actor) manages this with aplomb. McQueen emphisises the shallow , ugliness of Fassbender's character with a series of slow motion close ups of the actor at climax, his face distorted and hollow.
I feel sure that the director would have some great and meaningful diatribe to explain the 'meaning' of this and of modern day life , but the truth is its simply uninteresting. The lead character is totally vacuous and not worth the time to invest your interest in and the ending is predictable and trite .I spent the entire film waiting for something to happen but when you have neither sympathy or empathy for the main character then your fighting a loosing battle. Very dull, very slow, very sorry I bought it
Whatever one thinks about British film-maker Steve McQueen it is undeniable that the man has a penchant for challenging subject matter and this 2011 tale of sex addiction in modern day New York fits firmly (no pun intended!) into that category. Of course, the (quality) 'serious sex film’ genre is one of cinema’s most underpopulated – gratuitous titillation frequently being the order of the day – and Shame’s addiction theme is just the sort of subject (I would contend) that most people would rather avoid (hence the film’s title), but although McQueen’s film is (for me) certainly not without its flaws, I think he delivers a worthy (stylish, haunting, thought-provoking) effort here.
Of course, with his artistic background, visual style is something McQueen is never likely to be short of and here he (and his cinematographer Sean Bobbitt) do another great job in creating a bleak, mundane and sterile urban backdrop for his tale of Michael Fassbinder’s troubled 'city businessman’ Brandon. Indeed, the film’s stunning opening 10 minutes (with its initial shot of Fassbinder’s torso – almost a ‘natural’ follow-on from where he ended Hunger), as Brandon’s 'problem’ is conveyed visually by the brilliant subway sequence – with Fassbinder turned, against type, into a creepy voyeur, accompanied by Harry Escott’s superb score – intercut with the man’s apartment habits (whores, online porn and dangly bits), is one of the most impressive I have seen in recent cinema. Thereafter, Fassbinder is typically impressive as the man struggling to be 'normal’, unable to form 'relationships’, a loner in the city (not unlike Scorsese’s Travis Bickle), whose private world is upset when his (equally troubled) sister and singer Carey Mulligan’s Sissy suddenly drops in on him looking for a place to stay.
McQueen subtly hints (not always totally convincingly) at the latent insecurity (and superficiality) in his anti-hero (e.g. Sissy’s tear-inducing New York, New York rendition), though Brandon finds he cannot consummate a normal relationship with Nicole Behari’s co-worker Marianne and instead embarks on an orgy of hedonistic self-destruction (in one of the film’s most powerful sequences). It is, of course, an unremittingly bleak and nihilistic tale, but McQueen gives us a glimmer of hope with a brilliant 'full circle’ denouement (on the subway, again).