DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: TIFF 2011 - Shame

Friday 16 September 2011

TIFF 2011 - Shame

Shame (2011) dir. Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, James Badge Dale


By Alan Bacchus

Steve McQueen's follow-up to the acclaimed Hunger is a more controlled and precise film. Perhaps it's because he's working with another writer from source material in a novel, but either way this film shows McQueen's superb skills with a conventional narrative. McQueen's confidence in directing this picture is through the roof, as he executes scenes of astonishing visceral and emotional power and creates a technically stylish and emotionally intense experience on par with Black Swan.

The title refers to the affliction of his main character, which is an addiction to sex. Whether it's picking up women on the subway, hiring prostitutes or surfing the Internet for porn at work and jerking off in the bathroom, Brandon (Fassbender), despite being incredibly handsome and charming, is a man shamed by his addiction, which has caused him to create a silo of emotional detachment from everything around him.

We are strictly within Brandon's point of view, both sympathizing with and being reviled by his salacious behaviour. By day he seems to be well put together, a successful Manhattan executive living comfortably in his swanky apartment. Beneath this veneer is a broken down man full of self-loathing caused by his inability to control his libido. Threatening to interrupt his perfect charade is his sister, Sissy (Mulligan), who is equally messed up, possibly because of the same sexual afflictions as Brandon. Over the course of the film, Brandon’s downward spiral becomes near operatic in its tragedy.

McQueen’s metaphors are uncomplicated, as this is clearly a story of addiction. Sex for Brandon is primal, and most of the acts in which he engages are fleeting pleasures like an addict getting a fix.

Fassbender, who is already being celebrated for his performance, projects onto his character a shell of invulnerability to mask the inner torment and shame of his addiction. Carey Mulligan’s character complements Brandon, as she is also able to create a mask of success for the public while being a fragile wreck inside.

The opening scene is majestic, driven by a piece of music remarkably similar to something composed by Hans Zimmer in The Thin Red Line. Whether it’s an homage or outright theft, it works. The music creates the feeling of a grandiose battle at play. The looks and glances of courtship between Fassbender and the anonymous prey are intoxicating and ooze sexual energy.

Throughout the film the game of courtship is anti-romantic and treated like a predator and prey scenario. And by setting the story in Manhattan filled with alpha male, cockswaggering businessmen, it gives it a distinctly ‘80s quality when coke, sex and making money contributed to this exaggerated social competitiveness.

Like Hunger, Shame is anchored by a number of visually stunning, emotionally visceral set pieces, the most intense being Brandon's third act descent into his carnal super ego – a sexual 'bender' equivalent to a drug overdose.

Brandon's controlled performance is complemented by McQueen's astonishing control of his palette. Tones of blue and light, and touches of warm yellows equal the sadness that blankets the film. Shame is a film that is impossible to forget.

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