Fordham University '15
"I am Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" -Percy Bysshe Shelley
Review By: Kieran Newton
Shame is one of those movies that I think everybody should see at least once. Not only did the controversy surrounding its NC-17 rating (and subsequent nominations and wins) make it one of the most important films of 2011 for film culture, but it’s also a fascinating look at sexual addiction. It’s very well done, although it’s probably not for everybody, but that being said, it’s worth a viewing.
Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) works at a delightfully bland office in midtown Manhattan, lives in a cold and nondescript apartment on 31st street, and is a sex addict. This last part becomes increasingly clear over the course of the film, which plots Brandon’s loss of control over his life when his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to live with him. It’s a very simple story with some serious emotional weight, but its form is enigmatic and for some, it might seem a bit vague, dull, or wandering. It’s the type of movie that stakes its success on intimations, second glances and silent impressions, relying on almost no dialogue throughout the entire film. It’s very powerful and moving, but much like Tree of Life or perhaps Melancholia, it at times feels like a beautiful portrait set to music, rather than a narrative.
This style of movie is heavily dependent on its actors, and Fassbender in particular doesn’t disappoint. It’s a phenomenal performance, one that is very much worthy of an Oscar nomination, even though it didn’t get one. He is troubled, he is in pain, and it is all masked by that face and those gleaming teeth. The true magic, for me, was seeing through this mask to the deadness in the eyes. Though it can be oftentimes difficult to spot, it is a haunting effect, one that took my breath away. Mulligan, too, is phenomenal in this respect, one amazing, standout moment being her slow, affected, heartbreaking rendition of the classic “New York New York”. The only time the camera cuts from her is to look at Fassbender, as a solitary tear rolls down his cheek. It’s easily one of the strongest moments in the movie, one that is representative of the talent at its core.
Director Steve McQueen (who also wrote the film with help from Abi Morgan) knows that his actors are the centerpiece, and plays to this strength effectively. It’s a beautiful, minimalist movie that effectively uses shock value, but not cheaply, and certainly not in a titillating manner. Anybody who calls Shame pornographic isn’t just missing the point, they’re watching a different film. The frank depictions of sex are increasingly alienating as the film goes on, the movie’s climax (no pun intended) devolving into a maelstrom of flesh and self-loathing. It really is a powerful movie.
That being said, it’s certainly not for everyone, and it can be a bit confusing here and there. The BluRay
I liked Shame. I thought it was powerful and moving, despite some problems here and there (like the playing with narrative time that occurs sporadically throughout the film, a la Eternal Sunshine—this isn’t a spoiler, though, so don’t worry). That being said, I might not see it again. The choice is yours.