December 13, 2011

Review: Michael Fassbender Feels 'Shame'

British filmmaker Steve McQueen (no, not that Steve McQueen, the director of Hunger) and star Michael Fassbender delve into the disturbing world of chronic sexual addiction. Beautifully set against the vibrant backdrop of New York City, Shame is a provocative, cinematically expressive film.

Severe sexual addiction is only the beginning for siblings Brandon (Fassbender) and Sissy, played by the luminous yet here, down and dirty Carey Mulligan, and their highly dysfunctional relationship. Sexual deviancy is a biproduct of their broken lives and relationships. Brandon is devoid of emotion while Sissy expresses nothing but. Their broken parts don't exactly fit together.

Much has been made of the film's sexual explicitness, earning its NC-17 (18A in Canada) rating, and the graphic depiction of sex. However, its far from sexy. It is dark and disturbing. When Brandon is able to make real human connections, it comes off enticing yet quickly burns out due to his inability to maintain these genuine, meaningful relationships.

Brandon has lost his ability to care. He is full of so much anger and, well, shame. He sabotages what few relationships he does have and uses sex, the very aggressive kind, to deal with his frustrations. His baggage and emotional scarring runs deep.

Fassbender and Mulligan's on-screen full frontal nudity has also been a hot topic. However, it's really not a big deal. It's just there. They're naked, like in real life. Like the first time you see anyone naked, you get over it quickly. Its mundaneness contrasts the explicit sex throughout the film.

McQueen and co-writer Iain Canning craft a very tight picture and narrative, allowing Fassbender to emote and bleed on screen. The camera seldom moves with extended takes and long shots, crafting a disturbing portrait of emptiness. The silence of Fassbender's cold, sterile apartment and life reflects his sad existence.

Shame is a thoughtful, precise exploration into vice and a specific part of the human condition. The cinematic flourishes examine flaws and scars of a life without human relationships. He has lost control and forever seeking a release to fill the loneliness.

McQueen and Fassbender construct an entirely unsettling yet wholly cinematic portrait of sexual dysfunction, addiction, loneliness, and, of course, shame itself. Shame reveals humanity's dark side and sexual desires seldom explored so thoughtfully.

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