Shame Movie 2011
January 16, 2012 by staff
Shame Movie 2011, A sex addict’s life becomes increasingly more desperate when his sister moves in. Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) is a man unable to emotionally connect, desensitised to social interaction by a habitual stream of Chinese takeaways and Internet prnography. His laptop at home appears to be used only for live web chats with women who know “exactly what Brandon likes”; his computer at work has recently been taken for service because of a virus. It’s ridden with obscene videos and images. He’s got a really hard drive.
Brandon’s only friend is his pervert boss, David Fisher (James Badge Dale). The rest are merely passing accomplices of the night; dial-up whores and easy women picked up from bars. He has no reason, nor any desire, to form anything beyond these surface relationships, based on lust and leering. Until his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), appears at his flat.
She’s a singer for classy jazz bars, and wears colourful, vintage hats. The first night staying at Brandon’s, she screams her heart down a mobile onto some guy’s answerphone. The polar opposite to Brandon, her emotional connections are fiercely intense and quick to form. She’s always saying “sorry,” always fcking up. She’s a dependency, trapping Brandon outside of his comfort zone – a relationship based on something other than the physical. In another film, she’d be a femme fatale.
Shame is the story of the two, though from Brandon’s perspective. It details his increasingly desperate life based around sex. That he has an addiction is evident, but sex is merely his choice of poison, easily supplanted by drugs, alcohol or any other number of vices.
The subtext presents itself openly in the film’s first moment of transcendence – Sissy’s slow, broken performance of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York. The camera holds on Sissy, tight and in close up, for near on two minutes. Her head always up so in full view, with an occasional sultry glance to the side, she sings in a smouldering voice, her golden dress and dyed-blonde hair seemingly painted in gold by the warmly glowing bar behind. The film then cuts to Brandon, cold, metallic and chisel-featured, sitting at a nearby table. He can barely look at her, instead choosing to cast his head downwards. The camera holds on him for a similar length, showing a single tear fall from his eye. Fassbender’s performance here, as throughout, is sublime. The tear escapes him in pain, like a drop of blood from a mortal wound.
Steve McQueen, the director, holds on shots for eternities. They aren’t of the flashy variety of ‘long takes’, like the restaurant scene in Goodfellas. Instead they’re mostly static and confined to a single place. Facial expressions and significant actions are often obscured. The most important dialogue scenes are filmed from behind, only showing the backs of the actors’ heads.
One scene, for instance, films Brandon from atop a toilet cubicle, his masturbating covered from view by his hunched shoulders. The shot is held for so long and the action within it made so miniscule in its length, that an extraordinary thing starts to happen.
Your imagination begins to fill the blanks, much in the same way “radio paints clearer pictures than film,” or how “black and white is an actor’s best friend.” Faced with a repetitive or obscured image, your mind focuses upon the details, like Brandon’s hand pressed up against the wall before him. It forces you to give yourself to the film and superimpose yourself upon its protagonist. You worry for him that someone else might enter the lavatory, that the woman he slept with last night had a sexually transmitted disease. Is his pns hurting? After all, his hard drive has a virus. Is this a painful act for him? The tension in his shoulders, his facial expression as he walked in, both suggest so. It’s dirty. These aren’t the actions of the pervert’s caricature with which we’re comfortably familiar. He isn’t grunting, sweating profusely from his forehead, plastering long strands of hair across his face – Brandon is a self-sufficient, successful businessman. You feel, well…shame – not just for him, but also for yourself, as though caught n*ked in a dream.
After only two films, McQueen appears particularly adept to holding these prolonged shots, encouraging some effort from the viewer. He shares his boldness to hold on certain, otherwise mundane shots – a man running, an out-of-focus, black and white children’s cartoon – with Michael Haneke. Although while Haneke’s lens is largely static and surveillance-like, McQueen’s is capable of immense tenderness and tragedy, the slightest betrayals of motion implying an unfixed, more intimate camera. After all, is there a more tangible and tasty scrambled egg on toast than the dish that tempts Bobby Sands near the end of McQueen’s previous and debut film, Hunger? A more vivid recollection of childhood memory than in the same film’s 15-minute dialogue between man and priest?
You must be prepared to offer yourself to the film, much in the same way that Fassbender and Mulligan bare their n*ked bodies in entirety. People often broke out in laughter during the Friday night showing at Haymarket. It’s a way to deal with being uncomfortable; even the most prepared couldn’t have foreseen how graphic and tragic a few scenes would become. Some had brought popcorn in. It isn’t that kind of movie. It’s a film – and the first great one of 2012.
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