Shame (2011)

Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Steve McQueen & Abi Morgan

As I approached the box office I made sure to have my ID ready. When I handed it to the cashier, he politely thanked me for having it out, and suggested I keep it out as I would need to show it twice more before entering the theater for my movie. So with ID in hand, I had my ticket stub torn as I was told the way to my theater and reminded once again to have my ID out. When I got to the movie house, there was an AMC employee sitting there on a chair, ready to check my ID for the third time. I now understand why the NC-17 rating is considered death to a movie. But as I left the theater afterward, not having to show my ID at all to return to my car, I also understood it is a shame (haha) that people, but more importantly theaters, will be deterred by the rating of the film, and miss out on its brilliance.

I can’t say I disagree with the rating, it is a film complete with lots of sexual content and plenty of nudity, so none should tred lightly into this film. Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a successful man in New York City. He lives in a nice apartment, is handsome, and is a sex addict. We see him as he comes and goes with multiple partners, paying for the service sometimes and watching pornography. Addiction is a light word for Brandon’s problem, as it runs much deeper than that, which is evident when his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), shows up. A vagabond with issues of her own, Sissy throws a wrench into Brandon’s addiction by making him consider emotion in his life where it has been absent for so long.

But I do disagree with the stigma that comes with the rating. This is a movie about sex, true, and it does tell it quiet graphically at times, but the experiences and encounters are just as important as anything else in terms of telling the heartbreaking story of Brandon Sullivan, and for that reason it is not gratuitous. The miracle of this film is its main character and its lead actor, Michael Fassbender. Brandon is the main character, true, but in many ways he is the villain in the story. Somehow Fassbender and writer/director Steve McQueen, manage to paint him as a very sympathetic villain. We hate Brandon for using women and always standing at a distance far removed from any emotional connection. He is smooth, handsome and successful, yet he still pays prostitutes for their services. I hate this man.

The problem is he is an addict, not a criminal. And his crime is the lack of a heart capable of letting attachment and love enter, and what can be more sympathetic than that when it becomes so evident that when his sister re-enters his life that he is really trying to let her in and move past just sex with one particular apple of his eye. The performance by Fassbender is really a revelation in what has already been a magnificent career which has spanned just a short time but promises to be long and successful. The film seems perfectly paced and shot in director Steve McQueen’s sophomore effort complete with startling cinematography. The score of the film seems so intruding, just as Sissy intrudes on Brandon and his troubled lifestyle.

Sissy is not perfect either, and makes plenty of mistakes throughout the film which seems to compound on the mistakes of the past. But he entrance into the life of Brandon showed a glimmer of hope. It was evident there was love in his heart, but as the story progresses, we continue to see Brandon struggle to come out of his addiction, or even do anything about it. It is not a heartwarming or romantic story, but rather one which challenges the viewers stomach for sexual content and their constitution for depression and addiction. If you open up your mind to the film and your heart to the characters, the film will be a rewarding experience. For me, it was one of the bravest films of the year because of its ability to tell the story it wanted to tell without watering any of it down. Heck, I’d say it was one of the years best films. Period.

**** – Masterpiece

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

2 comments

  • The last wave of sexual encounters before the movie comes to a close is one of the most intense sequences I have ever seen. I don't recall a film that had so much sex in such a tiny time span and felt so nonsexual. We don't want him to go on this binge, we were hoping he could reconcile with his sister, or make it work with that co-worker, so to see him go hog wild (even more than his usual self) was heartbreaking.

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  • I will forever remember this movie as the one where I truly discovered Fassbender's capacity as an actor. It was amazing.

    Re: the ID check… it's kind of weird to me. In Sweden the highest age rating is 15. And tbh I have yet to see someone asking for identification cards. On the other hand we're more strict on driving. 18 year for driving licence. And 20 year for buying alcohol. I guess those age limits reflect some differences in our cultures.

    I can't say that I've heard of any 16 years watching Shame and getting damaged by it. Tbh it's kind of an arthouse movie. I can't imagine it's a huge success at the box office here.

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