Friday, June 29, 2012
Addiction Eating Away at Normalcy.
Director: Steve McQueen
Written by: Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale, Nicole Beharie, Lucy Walters, Elizabeth Masucci, Amy Hargreaves.
Running time: 102 min.
WARNING: The film is discussed at length, so there'll probably be spoilers. My suggestion is, if you haven't seen the film, see it, and then come back and gush over it with me.
Ever since October last year, I've been looking forward to seeing Shame. I watched the trailer and I couldn't shake the feeling that it made me want to make a film of my own. For months now, I've been going on about it, talking about what it was rated, how I was pissed that Michael Fassbender didn't get an Oscar nomination even though I hadn't seen it...I've been obsessed with this movie for ages. Because of this obsession, I no longer had expectations. I felt like I had already seen the film. But boy, when I sat down to watch it on Tuesday night, I was taken to places that I hadn't expected to go. I was given this whole new perspective of film that either I'd never bothered to look for, or has been missing from my recent film-watching. It had such an immediate effect on me that I knew would happen, but not as strongly or as powerfully as it did. Shame was responsible for one of those rare occasions where I've been so overpowered by a film that I just sit in my seat, frozen, with my eyes locked on the screen as the credits roll, and then find it necessary to tell everyone in the world that I've just seen a film that changed my life. It may sound hyperbolic - especially coming from a 16 year old girl who is legally deemed two years too young to see this film - but Shame had such an effect on me, which gave me just the wake up call I needed.
Steve McQueen's follow up to the brilliant Hunger has his star Michael Fassbender playing Brandon, a man living in a flash New York City apartment with a job that allows him to live the high life. That high life is one that is carefully planned out, revolving around his sex addiction. However, everything is changed when his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), arrives unexpectedly at his apartment asking to stay with him indefinitely.
The story itself is strikingly simple on the surface. However, it's complexity lies within the human strain of the movie. Brandon is a human who has a severe addiction which can't be turned off at the flick of a switch. In fact, in one scene he throws all of his porn, sex toys and even his laptop away as an attempt to get over his addiction. However, it isn't as simple as throwing away all of the material that he associates with his addiction. It is something inside him which craves to have the same satisfaction over and over again, that eats away at him until calms it down. We wonder if that satisfaction is satisfying him at all. At the beginning of the film, we see Brandon live his life out in a circle, filled with nights of prostitutes and porn, living in the comfort of the discretion of his private life. However, when we see him in his work environment, his private life is always haunting the back of his mind. His boss says "I find you disgusting" to describe cynics and Brandon looks up as if the statement was directed at him, the fear of his private life being brought out to a world that wouldn't understand cutting through his brain. The truth is, barely anyone would understand his constant need to have sex. But McQueen doesn't present it in that way - he presents it as if Brandon could be addicted to gambling or drugs. He just can't stop, and he's ashamed of the weakness that isn't letting him be 'normal'.
Normalcy is something that Brandon isn't aware of. When he has sex, he doesn't do it as an act of passion, it is just an 'act' for him. His life revolves around what he's addicted to - as seen in the opening moments where we see the cycle of his life - which is put out of kilter when Sissy comes to stay. Something as simple as someone else in his apartment who isn't going to have sex with him makes him feel exposed, and brings the true problem of his addiction to the fore. He realises that he needs to change, and attempts to do that with his colleague Marianne (Nicole Beharie), who he takes on a date. The sheer awkwardness of that date - shown through a couple of long takes that don't get all up into the character's faces, instead taking an outsider's look - is almost painful, as we see Brandon trying so hard to care for the date, but being so unskilled at it. I thought the relationship that Brandon had with Marianne was his true breaking point. When he attempts to make love to her, he can't, but moments later we see him with a prostitute. The normalcy of finding something close to love is so different - possibly almost unheard of - for him that the side of his head that is reserved for his addiction can't bear that thought, so it completely shuts him down.
The picture that McQueen paints with Shame is a helplessly grim, dark yet extremely rich one, that I really can't agree with the people that say that this movie has no point. It is the diary of a human who is going through something that is taking over his entire life and makes him practically incapable of normalcy. McQueen doesn't flash it up with huge melodramatic scenes or conversations with anyone about how much it sucks to be a sex addict. In fact, there's only one scene towards the end of the film that comes close to catharsis, but even then, it doesn't seem like enough to magically cure Brandon. What McQueen does with the largely touchy subject is distance the audience from what's happening in the film, but lingers on the raw emotions. Because of this, it never feels like a film, which is where some people probably have problems. Like McQueen's debut Hunger, he uses plenty of long takes, the most prominent being during Carey Mulligan's charming rendition of New York, New York. The way he sets up shots is something unlike anything I've seen before. The sex scenes, which are a fairly prominent part in the movie, aren't at all sexy, because McQueen shoots them in such a dry, lifeless way. I loved the climatic scene, which is edited in such a strange way that we go to about three different periods in time in order to get the full effect of what is going on. Then it is backed with a soaring, haunting score by Henry Escott. Everything about the way this movie is made is like a work of art. McQueen himself is an artist, giving him a keen eye for small details that make a scene click. It may be early days, but McQueen is one of my favourite working directors. And I don't say this and place him down the end of my list. He's up there with Nolan, Tarantino, hell, even Scorsese.
The success of the film lies with Michael Fassbender's powerhouse performance. Let me just join the never-ending chorus: why the hell wasn't he nominated for an Oscar for his work? His performance ranks as one of my favourite performances of all time. I love the way he unravels, particularly in the scene where he stops caring about his actions and is out to destroy himself and possibly anyone that comes in his path. He's complimented by a good performance by Carey Mulligan who plays his loud, obtrusive sister that needs someone to love her. While Sissy barely gets enough screen-time, it is clear to see that she has an effect on the way Brandon lives him life from now on, and he really doesn't like it that way. However, we never really see why Brandon and Sissy are the way they are around each other. She says that "we're not bad people, we just come from a bad place", and even though I wondered what she could possibly mean by that, I found that any explanation wouldn't add anything to my experience with the film. I liked the fact that it didn't need to delve into the facts of the characters in order to tie everything up neatly. I knew that they were deeply flawed people, troubled by the things inside of them, trying desperately - in very different ways - to claw themselves out of whatever mess they'd found themselves in. And that was enough for me.
I think the true testimony to how truly brilliant this film is lies with the final scene. It mirrors the first scene, and in any other film, we'd expect to see a sharp change. However, we don't. Fassbender plays out such confusion on his face, asking us the question, has he changed or hasn't he? That kind of look is something that isn't easily done by an actor. It is so rare that an actor can ask you a question with their face. Before we get a clear answer to our question, the film shuts off. My eyes were glued to the screen, so involved in this film that it took the sharp switch to complete darkness to jolt me out of the state that the movie left me in. And I just cried and cried and cried.
The day that this movie is erased from my mind will be the day I die.
What I got: