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Customer Review

166 of 181 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best films of 2011, 2 Jan. 2012
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This review is from: Shame [DVD] (DVD)
Spoilers?

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!
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 Feb 2012 01:21:00 GMT
Kenn Stewart says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Feb 2012 10:27:25 GMT
Last edited by the author on 19 Feb 2012 12:39:25 GMT
'But every one is allowed to have their opinion.' Couldn't agree more! I can see why someone would find it slow: I like movies which I feel have something to say, are about characters and take their time. Some find such an approach boring. Fair enough. Over-hyped? I really can't agree. Well-reviewed yes, but I think many movie-goers would be unaware of Shame, not a very good indication of 'hype'.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Feb 2012 15:25:58 GMT
Poppy. says:
Hello S.J. Williams,
We thought your review was excellent as the film was on just the one night were we live we went to see it and i wouldn't add to your review, though for me i thought it was too long on the threesome scene, but apart from that we liked it, yes it has kept us talking and thinking about the film today.

Posted on 24 Feb 2012 19:47:17 GMT
I've never heard of this movie, but may now seek it out due to your quite interesting in depth review!

Posted on 7 May 2012 22:38:58 BDT
Last edited by the author on 7 May 2012 22:42:07 BDT
Blueeyes says:
S.J Williams. So glad I came on here to read your review which confirmed , as a woman , what I thought Brandon's character was about , the way he behaved, reasons for that behaviour ....his addiction. A quite brilliant portrayal by Michael Fassbinder.
I was particularly moved by his sister's approach to him " but you're my brother!! " when he protested about her continueing pleas to be able to live with him . Was there an incestuous relationship there going back to childhood as she climbed into bed with him? I would say so .Yet Brandon considered her an intrusion he could do without tho he was moved to tears by her rendition of New York New York?
The final scene needed no words?

In reply to an earlier post on 8 May 2012 10:13:23 BDT
Last edited by the author on 12 Jan 2015 11:45:15 GMT
Hi. I'm glad the review was useful.
I think you're right re the incest but didn't put it in my review as it might 'fix' things for people who haven't seen the film. One of the great things about the film for me is the way it doesn't overstate things and allows the viewer to speculate and draw conclusions, rather as we put together our understanding of people we meet.
My own speculation is that both Cissy and Brandon were perhaps abused: Cissy may have become forever associated with that for Brandon and maybe why he can barely tolerate her presence. Perhaps for Cissy, it has created a dependence on his largely withheld support. (Too many 'maybes' and 'perhapses', I know, but interesting films and books leave something behind for us to think about. To state these points almost fixes them too much, I think.) If I remember rightly, when she gets into bed with him I felt even more sympathy for her because of his constant rejection.

Posted on 14 May 2012 10:47:25 BDT
R. J. Krzak says:
I hadn't heard of this film however, after reading your review I am now intrigued. I've put it on my 'films to watch' list. Like you, I enjoy a film that has something to say and are about characters; the deeper the psychology element the better, hence my intrigue. Thanks for a very well written review!

In reply to an earlier post on 14 May 2012 19:02:48 BDT
Many thanks.

Posted on 15 May 2012 00:31:58 BDT
Ms CG S. says:
Fantastic review! Spot on.

Posted on 17 May 2012 08:10:36 BDT
Kevin Tomlin says:
I think you have captured the essence of what the film is trying to portray which for me is the turmoil the lead character goes through in trying to achieve a normal relationship with his sister and a future partner. I agree the film is not about sex but about the difficulties emotionally the lead character has which he then masks with his addiction instead of facing up to those fears. Thank you for your review it was positive and accurate
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Review Details

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Reviewer

S. J. Williams
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   

Location: Leeds, West Yorkshire United Kingdom

Top Reviewer Ranking: 412