Friday, June 29, 2012

Addiction Eating Away at Normalcy.

Film: Shame
Year: 2011
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:

34 comments:

  1. Amazing review of a film that changed me in a way films rarely do. I'm lucky that usually at least once or twice a month, since I often pick great movies I know I'll love, I get the chance to watch a film that completely shatters me and wins me over entirely with everything about it. Shame is one of them. I still cannot believe how powerfully brilliant every single second of it is. The tracking shots are incredible. I love a good tracking shot (my all-time favourite film is built around phenomenal tracking shots) and McQueen uses them perfectly. Harry Escott's score is incredible. I downloaded it quickly after I saw the film and I've had it on repeat all day. Fuck it's amazing.

    For me, the one moment in the film that struck me more than any other, both times I saw it, was the look on Fassbender's face as he climaxes with the two prostitutes. It's one of the scariest facial expressions I have ever seen. Holy fuck it terrified me. In that single expression Fassbender shows every emotion except for pleasure or ecstasy. It's like a long, horrific scream of despair and agony. The film itself is a long, horrific scream of despair and agony, and I've seen a lot of films that could fit that description.

    Shame will surely, alongside Hunger, make an appearance on my next updated Top 100 films list.

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    1. I love the way Fassbender looks during that scene. In fact, the scene itself is so tremendously done. The music that accompanies it is so scary. Fassbender shoulda been nominated for an Oscar - it shocks me that he didn't.

      Hunger is already really high up in my top 100, and Shame will join it. Hell, Shame may even be a top 20 movie for me.

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  2. Wow great review.

    Crap I feel bad now for not loving this as much as everyone else. Makes me feel dead inside. Well deader. But I really did like it. I *loved* the way it looked. I have a thing for films with specific aesthetics and the spotless lightness of everything reflected Brandon's very much opposite life so well. And then the blood at the end is just so vivid. And it sounded great too. It's just that it was too foreign for me at times and I did not know how to feel I guess. Fassy was amazing, I mean totally up there for me in terms of breath-taking performances. Mulligan was pretty good too.

    I can still rewatch this though, eventually. Hunger was just terrifying for me. I am very excited to see Steve McQueen will do next. I may not love it, but I will definitely respect it.

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    1. Don't feel crap - I like to be depressed in the way that Shame did that for me.

      I think everyone's fangirling over that cast that McQueen has got himself. Should be an interesting film.

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  3. Fassbender's performance is what stands out in this film. He tells a thousand words just by a look or a twitch in a muscle. The film as almost a silent movie, so little is spoken. But for all the minimalism it manages to convey a lot. It's not just an empty pose; there's content in the silence.

    The only thing I didn't quite buy into was the NY NY performance. There it became just too subtle and slow; I lost my patience. But apart from that: an excellent film that was way up on my top list of 2011.

    Oddly enough I didn't react as emotionally to it as you did. I didn't cry a single tear. I was uncomfortable though; that's for sure, and I ended my review remarking that I couldn't imagine revisiting anytime soon; it was just too dark for that.

    You must be a very tough 16 year old, plunging into this repetedly.

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    1. I totally agree about Fassbender. He is just so amazing in this, by moving so little.

      I am a tough 16 year old. There was a lot in this that connected with me, for reasons that shall remain unsaid.

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  4. Your review is definitely a sight for sore eyes. Makes me glad that I never underestimate youth, 16 doesn't necessarily mean hanging out in the mall and trying to find yourself at over the top teen parties, it already can be an age where the person is clear of their opinions and themselves. I bow down in gratitude for offering me some proof of the matter.

    Now as I read the review and just recently saw the movie (I still have the pleasure of putting my thoughts on paper) and I agree. What I feel sad about is the fact that it can be a movie which could be easily forgotten. Those amazing movies that don't get enough praise but deserved it from the start, are sometimes clouded by bigger and bolder, more out there films and lets put it boldly, movies that need less thinking. Hoping that likeness towards Fassbender, who seems to deliver in any role he takes on (god, I love that man), can prove me wrong.

    Not to make it into a comment as long as your post and trying to keep everything inside by the time my own review starts to form its presence, I think you captured the essence of the characteristics. What I also saw myself, was the fact that a lot of the longer scenes of Brandon and Sissy were shot from the behind (train station, the couch scene) which even more stripped us from watching it like a movie. It made us distant, it made us look closer and pay more attention because it felt like we were listening in to somebody's private life. Life we never, as you said yourself, actually saw and really never got to know completely.

    Mettel Ray
    http://mettelray.wordpress.com

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    1. Thanks for not underestimating us youths!

      It is so sad that this went largely unrecognised. It is especially criminal that Fassbender went unrecognised. Oh well, everyone will regret it in a few years.

      Ha, I totally agree with what you said about Brandon and Sissy being shot from behind. Totally true.

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  5. The key line from my review is "When his boss, a married man who nevertheless hits up bars looking to get laid, takes an interest in Sissy, I think that shines a bit of a light into what he’s been doing, how this affects the women involved." I've heard some say that this film is conservative, demonizing sex, but I think it's really taking on the self-centered lack of empathy that can come from addiction.

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    1. Wow, I totally agree with that line! So true!

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  6. Damn. Just reading this made me want to watch it again. That shows how effective your review is. Well done.

    (Also, you're a braver person than me for re-watching it so quickly. It kinda left me in a daze afterwards.)

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    1. Thanks!

      It left me in a daze, too. I couldn't stop talking about it at school. Mind you, I couldn't say no when my friend turned up with it.

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  7. Great review Stevee! I loved that scene in when he's on the date. The camerawork throughout the film is just divine! What did you think of Nicole Beharie's performance? I never hear anyone mention her, but I thought she was fantastic. I guess she was overshadowed by Fassbender and Mulligan. If I had seen this film earlier, it would have surely made my top 10 of the year.

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    1. I loved Nicole Beharie's performance. The awkwardity between her and Fassbender was so unbelievably realistic it was painful to watch.

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  8. I read this post and really enjoy. I collect useful information from this blog. Thanks for sharing important post with us.

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  9. I loved this too. I do remember there was one sequence where it got slightly confusing, but overall a powerful film.

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    1. The one where he went out and talked dirty to the girl n the bar(the one with the husband). For a bit i wasn't sure whether that was a flashback or not

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    2. Ah true. That confused me for a little bit, but then I realised how brilliant the editing was.

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  10. This might be your best review yet, Stevee, for such an incredible film. It's definitely one that is hard to shake, and I am glad that sex addiction - thanks to this film in a way - is being seen as a genuine addiction like it should.

    And dude, I think some people have mentioned it before on your blog, but you don't need to mention your age as much as you probably think you do - there are lots of people, just as young as you (and I, since I am not much older), that watch films like Shame out there, you'd definitely be surprised. (As I am sure you have seen in the blogsphere too, age is just a number.)

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    1. Oooh thank you! And yes, I'm glad that sex addiction is being seen as a genuine addiction, too.

      I just can't help myself - I live in an age-defined society, unfortunately. But yes, my friend liked it too, so we're just cool 16 year olds.

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  11. I'm so glad you finally got to see this. I agree the film is amazing, I'm fucking baffled that Fassbender didn't get an Oscar nomination. He blew all the other nominees away.

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    1. He definitely did! The fact that people thought that George Clooney was better is borderline offensive.

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  12. Beautiful review! So glad you liked this movie that much. I thought it was a beautiful character study and I just love the way McQueen is shooting his films and I hope he will bring us many more gems like that one. Him and Fassbender are a fantastic duo, always brining so much force and emotions in their work. The score is incredible too and the editing is just brilliant.

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    1. Thanks! It was a beautiful character study. I'm sure that McQueen will keep one making amazing films - what a talented guy!

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  13. The movie was definitely a highlight of the beginning of the year for me (I saw in January)- I remember watching it in cinemas with friends and being blown away, first of all, by the direction, cinematography, basically everything from the technical, more filmmaking point of view. Fassbender, of course, delivered one of the best, if not, the best performance of last year, and I am, too, shocked he didn't get an Oscar Nomination, at least. What was interesting is that I realized the genius of the script and all of the emotions and transformations of the character after I left the theatre; just thinking about it and discussing it with friends made me realize that I just witness a fantastic film. I adore, and I mean it, the types of movies that focus on character development- it's the thing that drives me in and makes a film memorable for me, and I am sure we can both agree that Shame definitely has that.
    I cannot wait for 12 years a slave- considering Hunger and Shame, I think we can be sure it will fantastic. Have you seen the cast for it? Oh my God!

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    1. The script WAS genius! The transformations and the subtleties were so flawlessly done. I do love films that focus on character development - they just seem to be far more interesting to me.

      12 Years a Slave looks pretty epic! It shall be great, for sure!

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  14. What a beautiful review! I had mixed feelings about this movie. I found the understated quality of the film -- which, ironically, I admired in Hunger -- difficult to appreciate. I kept looking for more of the characters' back story, more connection, or more ... something. I am thinking about giving it a second viewing.

    I thought one of the most painful scenes in the movie was when he's with a woman to whom he's really attracted and for whom he seems to actually have feelings, and he can't make love to her. Then he immediately has the physically intense but passionless tryst with the prostitute.

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    1. Thanks! I can totally see where you're coming from. There isn't a hell of a lot of back story or connection. Somehow, I liked all of that!

      That was definitely one of the most painful scenes. It was so sad to watch.

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    2. Yes, that scene was heartbreaking. It's one I'll probably never forget.

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  15. I cannot begin to tell you how happy it makes me that so many people from your side of the pond are loving Shame. I’ve been raving about this flick since December, and the Kiwis and Aussies have breathed new life into it, which totally rocks.

    There is not one single frame about this movie that I didn’t find flawless. It is a masterpiece of modern filmmaking that singlehandedly confirms why I love film as much as I do. That climatic sequence is some of the best 10 consecutive minutes of film ever displayed.

    Again, really glad you dug this as much as me.

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    1. Yes, there seems to have been quite a few late arrivals to the Shame party in the past week! It may have taken it's time to get here, but I'm damn glad that we finally got it.

      That climatic scene - WOW. I've never seen anything as intense as that.

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  16. You're 16? You write damn' good reviews for someone of your age! About Brandon and Sissy's relationship, have a look at my take-

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1723811/board/nest/197378299

    I've done a piece on Shame myself, if you're interested.

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    1. Thanks! And yes, that's an interesting take on their relationship.

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You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.

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