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Michael Fassbender Shame

January 16, 2012 by staff 

Michael Fassbender ShameMichael Fassbender Shame, The first thing to say about Shame, Steve McQueen’s new film about pleasureless consumption, is that it’s good. From the start, when we see its star, Michael Fassbender, sitting in a New York subway train, eyeing a young woman, to the end, when we see his face in a rictus of desperation, I was gripped. He wants something, this character, and you know, pretty early on, that he’s not going to get it. He moves through the city, always searching, a predator but also a victim – and you’re with him all the way.

Fassbender plays Brandon, a high-level office worker. We never find out exactly what he does, but it’s something about making deals in smart offices – marketing or advertising, we suspect. Brandon is an important cog in the consumer society. At one point, his boss, David, says, “He nailed it! He nailed the deal! He’s the man!” He’s good at his job – good at oiling the wheels of consumption. Brandon is always beautifully dressed. He’s a walking – or, rather, prowling – advert for the good life. He wears lovely jackets, beautiful scarves. He’s a man of good taste. He lives in a swanky minimalist apartment: big fridge, big windows, big view of the city.

But Brandon is catastrophically unhappy. Something is missing from his life. Something big. And, from the start, we see him trying to fill this gap with sexual encounters. Whenever he approaches a woman, his eyes slide towards her; when one passes, his neck swivels, so he can look at her from behind. He leers. But this is not the leering of Sid James; it’s not a power-leer. Brandon is in thrall to his sexual appetite, not in charge of it. He’s its slave, not its master.

It’s not long before you realise that Shame is trying to tell you about something other than sex. You begin to see this as you watch Brandon having sexual encounters – one after the other, over and over. He has sex outdoors and indoors. Sometimes he pays for sex, sometimes not. I lost count of how many times I saw Brandon with a woman, briefly and anonymously. Everything but the sex is slinky and elegant. The facial expressions, the dance of seduction or pretend-seduction. But the sex itself looks ugly. It’s bang, bang, collapse. Then the woman goes, and Brandon is left alone. He looks shattered, hollow. He looks like a gambler who has made, and lost, yet another bet.

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