PLOT: Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a deeply troubled New Yorker, in the throws of an out-of-control sex addiction. While at work, he spends his days watching internet porn, and sneaking off to the washroom to masturbate. At home, he feeds his addictions with one-night-stands, hookers, and massive amounts of porn. His situation escalates when his troubled sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to visit.
REVIEW: I think it's safe to say that after it's debut at the Venice Film Festival (where it netted Michael Fassbender the award for best actor), there was no film coming into TIFF with more controversy. All but guaranteed an NC-17 for all the full-frontal nudity, and graphic sex, director Steve McQueen (who previously directed Fassbender in the no less controversial HUNGER) asked the audience at the public screening I saw this with to forget all the controversy, and just ďlookĒ at the film- meaning, I wager, to let go of the baggage and form our own opinions.
This advice was dead-on, as SHAME truly is the kind of film you just need to surrender to. It's a deeply troubling depiction of sex addiction, which is presented is a very matter-of-fact manner. As portrayed by Fassbender, Brandon is like a shark, constantly cruising bars and nightclubs for sex- turning to hookers and porn if he strikes out. It's so bad that Brandon is incapable of having any kind of honest relationship, and when he tries to date a co-worker later in the film, he can't even perform, as to him having even the slightest bit of emotion introduced into the act is too much to handle.
It's suggested that both Brandon and his sister Sissy are damaged from a childhood of what I presume was constant sexual abuse, but itís left ambiguous. Their relationship is extremely uncomfortable, with Sissy thinking nothing of walking in on a masturbating Brandon, or crawling naked into bed with him. Brandon tries to maintain his boundaries, but he has trouble, and in a spectacularly acted scene, he has a tantrum while being forced to listen to his sister having sex with his married, self-styled player boss in his own bedroom.
Both Fassbender and Carey Mulligan turn in fearless performances under McQueen`s obviously inspired direction. I still havenít seen HUNGER, but itís obvious from SHAME that he's a remarkable director, giving audiences the same kind of raw, emotional experience that those in the seventies probably got from the films of John Cassavetes. Actually, SHAME has a lot of interesting parallels to Cassavetes work, with this having a lot in common thematically with one of his best-films, LOVE STREAMS, that, uncomfortably cast him opposite his wife Gena Rowlands, as siblings. That said, even Cassavetes probably wouldn't have dared dive so deeply into taboo territory as McQueen does here.
However, it's wildly different from Cassavetes in one sense, in that visually it's very polished, with it being shot on high-grade 35mm film, and having a beautiful visual aesthetic that drives home the fact that McQueen began his career in the visual arts.
Of course, considering the subject matter, SHAME is not for everyone. It's a harrowing piece of work, and thoroughly disturbing. It demands a lot from it's audience, but if you're the adventurous type, who doesn't mind being challenged by a film, than SHAME is something that deserves your attention.