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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.
The only reason why I have given it four stars instead of five is the because I didn't see the need for the gratuitous nudity, seeing Michael Fassbenders bits in all their glory as he went for a pee was not necessary to the story.
The ending is particularly great - it leaves the reader wondering if there is a change in him. His expression seems to convey that there is some growth in him as a person - no longer a slave to his physical urges - but then we're left wondering if he will get up and follow the woman eventually. A must watch for people interested in a psychological study of human character.
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