Friday, October 7, 2011

NYFF 2011: Shame (2011) (An On Futher Review style review- with spoilers)

Steve McQueen's follow up to Hunger once again has him working with Michael Fassbender. Fassbender and the film are on the short list for Oscars come the end of the year. While I like the film, I can't quite give the film that much love.

The plot of the film follows Michael Fassbender's sex addict as he goes through life keeping everyone and everything at a distance. He's so disconnected that he won't even talk to his sister who calls him everyday and leaves long messages. Unfortunately for Fassbender he comes home one day to find his sister in his bathtub. She's got a singing gig in New York and she's planning on staying with him. It's a move that upsets his ordered life and sends him scurrying in all sorts of directions, including into a possible relationship with a woman from his office.

My first question is why is it that many critics rave about any reasonable performance by an actor when he does full frontal nudity? Apparently this is a big to do. To me the fact that Fassbender wanders through several scenes naked is nothing special, its simply how he would be in those scenes. I'm shocked that no one has talked about the fact that he urinates in an early scene, which is even rarer on screen.

I'm sorry, but Fassbender's performance isn't anything special. The big daring move here is the nudity, but outside of that, Fassbender doesn't really do much. Yes, there are some emotional moments but mostly he plays it silent. Fassbender says little and lets the audience read into what he is doing anyway that they want (at the press conference after the film director Steve McQueen said that he designed bits of the film that way). I suppose that's a good thing, but to me, I'd like to have the director and the actor give me a little bit more than a mirror, I mean a few more personal details would have been nice. To me other than some turmoil in a few scenes I don't think there was very much going on behind his eyes. He's a cypher to start and that's how he ends, even with some late in the game emotions.

Cary Mulligan as his sister is more interesting in her few scenes. There is clearly something more going on there, but again, so much isn't spoken. I would love to see a film about her character. ( I need to point out that Mulligan delivers one of the best, and most heart rending versions of New York, New York you'll ever hear. It's brilliant)

I don't think the film really works. I know people like Fassbender's character and in some ways I can relate to his obsessions (you've seen this blog so you know I'm obsessive) but there is something about him that doesn't quite ring true. It's not so much that what he does is wrong, it's that the weird swings he takes just don't seem real in the way they play out. They seem more constructed rather than natural, he will do this now and then that... Actually, yes what doesn't seem real is the construction of the film, which has the various characters rambling around for the first two thirds before Fassbender drops into hell in the final third, taking his sister with him.

I need to ask, am I the only one bothered by the film's equating gay sex and threesomes with a descent into depravity? I have nothing wrong with either, but the fact that McQueen uses them as a shorthand for Fassbender going off the rails is just wrong and borederline offensive. Actually the whole sequence from the hooker, to bar to gay club to threesome felt gratuitous and off base and like I was being cheated or treated like a child...or more like McQueen decided to come clean and say "you've sat for an hour of no sex so here's everything we promised you in one shot".

I won't go into the life changing sequences that follows Fassbender's binge when he heads home... all I'll say is that I can't believe that McQueen actually did it since it smells of the tendency to have great art go tragic just to bring about catharsis or bring about the desired end of the story (never mind if it's out of place and made me think of former Saturday Night Live and National LAmpoon writer Michael O'Donoghue's piece The Way to Write Good which says effectively the way to be taken seriously is bring in tragedy at the end).

Because I've been bad mouthing the film I need to say that this isn't a bad film. It really isn't. It's just not what all the many reviews I've read have made it out to be. Its good, but no religious experience. Personally, I think it's simply the sort of film that has a "daring" subject which has gotten under the skin of some critics and audiences who are used to more sedate subjects.

If the subject intrigues you give it a shot, just don't feel the need to go running out to see it.


  1. DBBorroughs, it is better not to critize films that you have not understood. Yes, you are the only one equating gay sex and threesomes with a descent into depravity. SHAME is a portrait of a man who has an inability to sustain an emotional connection with any another human being, not to mention any form of intimacy; To an extreme that as a hetrosexual man he has a homosexual experience, which still provokes no emotion (positive or negative).

    The only scene that is gratiutus is when Fassbender goes to the toilet early in the film, there just isn't a point to it, 4 seconds of film that would have been better off on the cutting room floor. The rest of the film is expertly crafted and one of the most thought provoking films this year. Enjoy!

  2. I agree that the film is about a man in capable of sustaining any sort of emotional relationship, but at the same time we know that five minutes in to the film and it never goes anywhere from there. There is still 100 minutes of the same point being repeated over and over again, as we learn almost nothing about him after that point. I can't say it's truly thought provoking past that since there is nothing really to deepen the little we know at the start.

    As for the homosexuality, the way you word the comment makes it seem like this it's Brandon's first experience, which it clearly isn't. He obviously knows where to go for what he wants...the orgasm that will, for a split second, send the pain away.

    For me the notion of the sex being problematic arises not from purely the homosexual encounter, its the fact it's coupled with all that happens next. Its the threesome (which is where the film should have ended on Brandon's face as he is in mid-coitus with a look more of sadness then enjoyment) and it's the suicide attempt that,while foreshadowed, seems overtly heavy handed to pile up twists into Brandon's life artificially. (In fairness it might have worked had there not been a police investigation on the subway, to me that was just guilding the lilly.)

    It's not that I don't get what the film is about, rather that I'm annoyed by the simplistic and almost cliche way in which the character and the story are revealed.

    I do like the film, I just don't see it as being all that deep and meaningful as many people have done. I honestly do believe that much of the complexity is being brought into the film from the outside and is not really there, outside of the points it makes in say the first five or ten minutes