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Review: SHAME (2011)


Film: SHAME (2011)

Director: Steve McQueen

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan

For my birthday, my friend Mandy bought me tickets to see a movie I’ve been wanting to see for about a month.  I’ve heard the name Michael Fassbender, especially in talking about Best Actor Oscar nominations.  I heard the film was raw, emotionally and literally naked, and that it would be tough to see considering director Steve McQueen and the distributor decided to release the film with an NC-17 rating.  Then suddenly, the film appeared on my radar, showing in a theater about 30 minutes driving distance away.  The film was “Shame”.

Emotionally raw is exactly how I would put it.  It’s a sad tale of tortured souls, of souls with an instantaneously combustible nature.  Well, at least one of them is.  We’ve seen this theme before: the single, good-looking, successful 30-something male who can’t emotionally connect with a woman or with anyone really.  The idea of the shallow, superficial man is the defining characteristic of the 2000’s cinema in my opinion.  Romantic comedies and dramas both commonly feature male leads who appear incapable of emotional attachment, including films such as the older “Wedding Crashers”, the recent “Crazy Stupid Love”, and this one.  I know these films are different, but they all offer variations of the superficial male who is unable to establish a link with other human beings, especially romantic.  Where this one differs is the lack of conscious choice, centering more on the protagonists compulsory needs as a replacement for his lacking emotional state.  He’s pure instincts, in the way that you would imagine a caveman to be with his prey.  He doesn’t choose to hunt out of recreation, he does it simply because he must.  And that’s how we find our lead, the fiery, combustible male with a dangerous addiction (to sex) that tears away at his interpersonal connections.

There is a very telling sequence of actions about 2/3 of the way through the film that demonstrates the very thing I’m talking about.  After going out on a date with a female co-worker, our lead awkwardly walks away from a potential connection, only to rethink and break that barrier the next day at work with a pretty steamy make-out session that leads to a very interesting encounter.  I hate to spoil it since the film is not in wide release yet, but the following scenes speak volumes about the character in question.  He does what he does because he is incapable of normal connection, and despite what appears to be a pretty sweet addiction, he derives no satisfaction from it the way normal humans feel satisfaction from sexual encounters.  It’s not manliness and machismo that drive his addiction, it’s a soul crippling ailment that causes him pain and suffering at his own and others’ expense.

Both Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender are to be commended, watching this makes me want to see McQueen’s first effort, “Hunger”, and to see anything Fassbender has put out, in the same way “Bronson” fuels my fire for anything Tom hardy related.   McQueen’s directorial style can be soft and intimate at one moment, then brutal and unforgiving the very next.  I feel like he uses long takes to convey the awkwardness the protagonist feels during the most mundane sequences, and then upping the kinetic energy during his fiery outbursts that more accurately reflect his actual nature.  He hates himself, but he can’t help himself.

And a ton of the credit for the success of this film leans on the performance of Michael Fassbender, as well as Carey Mulligan, who plays his troubled yet seemingly well-intentioned sibling.  Fassbender frequently plays the silent character, the smoldering pile of leaves just waiting to erupt into a 4-alarm blaze of rage and unbridled instincts and repressed rawness.  He’s barely able to contain the burning embers in his soul during most of his day where he exists as a successful business man, then purges his innermost needs during his personal time at home.  Fassbender really is a revelation here, in the same way Christian Bale blew me away in “American Psycho”, and they do play characters that appear to be related in nature.

I can’t wait for this film to get a wider release so hopefully the drive behind Michael Fassbender’s Oscar campaign gets a boost.  Really, McQueen and Fassbender should get nominated, but Fassbender has a better chance. I just hope the adult rating doesn’t deter Academy voters from giving it a better chance.  The film needs to exist in its current form.  It’s important that it remain intact, and I hope the Academy agrees with me.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. August 19, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Wonderful review. I was very impressed with “Shame”, too. It’s just one of those films you just simply can’t stop thinking about after having seen it.

    Have you seen “Hunger” yet? It’s extremely hard to watch…

    • August 19, 2012 at 10:08 pm

      Thank you! I’ve watched it a few times since that first time in the theater and have enjoyed it more and more with each viewing.

      I just watched “Hunger” last week and thought it was pretty great, and definitely tough to watch like you said. I think opinions are pretty split on which of the two films people like better. I’d have to give the nod to “Shame” for me, though I could see the argument for “Hunger” also.

      Thoughts?

      • August 20, 2012 at 5:51 am

        I prefer Shame as well. The pacing of the film works better for me. Hunger is also more like a raw diamond (that sounds stupid, but my brain doesn’t come up with a better comparison) but Shame is more polished and in this case I prefer the polished version.

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