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Shame - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A-
Acting: A
Writing: C+
Cinematography: A
Editing: B+

Shame is filled with skillful and artful filmmaking. It could even be said that it meets, or in a way even exceeds, its full potential, what with its unusually polished cinematography and riveting performances. But what is its full potential, exactly? It's that part I still can't figure out. What, exactly, was the point of this?

There's a huge amount of sex in this movie, which explains its NC-17 rating. I'm 35 years old, and arguably look 28, but I certainly look well over 18. Still I got carded. That's never happened to me at a movie theatre before. The guy ahead of me in line was apparently too young and got turned away. I was even warned that my ID would be checked again once I handed over my ticket inside, although that didn't happen. The whole thing gave the movie an aura of, if not titillation, then certainly unseemliness. The director, Steve McQueen (Hunger), clearly had no interest in compromising his vision -- which consists of lots and lots of desperate, miserable sex.

So: no, nothing titillating here. Not in the least. Michael Fassbender goes through an awe-inspiring transformation, as his character, Brandon, spirals deeper and deeper into his sexual obsessions. And it's never unclear that it is an obsession. We never see him experiencing "the joy of sex." The one time Brandon attempts physical intimacy with a person he seems to care for personally, he finds himself unable to get erect. His sex addiction runs so deep that we never stop seeing him as a straight man, even when he walks into a gay sex club for a quick blow job. Clearly, it's just a compulsive need for a blow job.

Near the end of the film, in yet another of countless scenes in which Brandon is desperate to take care of a sexual itch that just can't be scratched, his face becomes so sunken and desperate, it very nearly looks like a special effect, like he's turning into a skeletal shadow of himself. It's very unsettling.

Complicating matters is his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan). She slowly reveals himself to be just as damaged but in different ways. She crashes at Brandon's house, upsetting his obsessive sexual routines. There seems to be a hint that they perhaps shared some kind of deep trauma in childhood, but we never find out what it was, which is perhaps for the best.

Still, she only really ever serves as a distraction. The focus is always on Brandon. And this focus is so acute, it seems like half the movie we're practically forced to look at his loins -- because that's his center of motivation, perhaps? Early establishing shots in his apartment have the camera hovering where we see him from mid-thigh up to mid-torso, as he walks stark naked back and forth in front of us. Yes, this is Michael Fassbender's penis. But no! It's Brandon's. This is Brandon's Achilles Heel. I suppose it could be said that Brandon has an Achilles Cock.

I'm not sure I've ever seen anything less sexy that was so full of sex. The same was said by many of Shortbus (2006), but at least that movie had people you could imagine having fun hanging out with. The characters in Shame live up to the title. They are patently miserable. Brandon doesn't seem capable of having fun having sex. How depressing is that?

And that brings me back to my original point. Shame is an exceedingly well-made film, but to what end? It even has realistically written dialogue, but the story itself, which should be of utmost importance, is its weakest link. I would be hard pressed to call this movie entertaining. I certainly can't think of anyone I would recommend it to. Maybe only die-hard movie buffs like myself. It's selling points are Fassbender's Oscar-worthy performance, and, to a lesser degree, its character study of addictive behavior. But on the whole, it's a movie in many ways admirable but overall just plain hard to sit through.

Michael Fassbender has plenty of SHAME.

Overall: B
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