Friday 13 January 2012

Review: Shame

Year: 2011 (2012 Release)
Director: Steve McQueen
Screenplay: Steve McQueen & Abi Morgan
Starring: Micheal Fassbender, Carey Mulligan

Synopsis is here:

Note: Slight spoilers are abound in this review. I don't speak of the plot explicitly, but what I do say does touch on areas of story more than I usually do. Well to me anyway.

I haven't read any reviews as of yet* but Shame has been making quite a stir with many critics. I'm quite surprised; as to me, the film, a character piece about sex addiction has more than a touch of the conventional about it. McQueen's film does well to show that sex addiction is just as wretched much like any other type of excessive behaviour. With this said, by doing this, the film sometimes feels like we've seen this been done before with the usual suspects. It's not hard to feel that one or two moments within the films final act could easily be found in a typical drug piece. However, McQueen's use of space and setting; along with Fassbender's scintillating performance makes help make this feature a captivating one.

McQueen's view of New York we see in this film is a isolating and smothering one. We never really release how suffocating it is until a critical scene involving Fassbender's Brandon running on a late night jog. It is the most invigorating moment of a film that relies on the stillness of it's camera. We see Brandon not only trying to break free from the situation within his apartment; involving his equally emotionally broken sister (a devilishly child-like and selfish display by Mulligan), but also trying to break out of his own damaged spiral. As he runs down the gridded system, it's almost like an old cartoon where the character moves and yet runs past the same repeated background forever.

Brendon is an deeply affected addict; locked in routine he cannot break free from. He is constantly restless (spy the red bull can often in his hand), and his sisters disruptive involvement in his life has only caused more problems. He feels shame not only for his addiction, but for whatever tragedy which both stuck him and his sister in New Jersey. The scenes between the two of them are drenched in anxiety. They do not interact like brother and sister, they can't console each other when the reach breaking point. The simple fact that they cannot find an emotional connection with each other has infected all their other attempts of finding a meaning full relationships in other areas of their lives. Both of them try and utilise sex as a way of starting something meaningful and can't seem to understand why its so destructive.

Brandon is absorbed with sex; and his excess has reached such a peak, that it doesn't even seem to be about "getting off" or "conquests". We don't know what his job is, but does it matter? It's not as if he concentrates on it, distracted in meetings, often late with reasonable excuses, we're as adrift in the haze as much as him. We watch him on a train in a scene involving a young (married) girl which switches from playful to predatory in a moments glance. We sense the tone in uncomfortable close ups; not only in this scene but so many others. The camera lingers disturbingly when we would like it to cut away. The sex although clearly constructed at times is never romantic or erotic. It feels like a weight that needs to be shifted. The endorphins released after the act clearly do little to lift the cloud. Fassbender carries this metaphorical bulk effectively in nearly every scene. His body language subtly awkward, conflicting thoughts flutter in each glance. Mulligan's outward display neatly counterbalances this. This is the best I've seen from her. Her childish manner is attention seeking but with good reason. He rages at her because his covers blown. "you trap me in a corner" he exclaims. What he hate is the fact that he's exposed. She doesn't understand but often reacts just as sharply. The chemistry between the two is a foil that works remarkably well within the film
Where Shame slips it's in certain moments within it's final third. In what should be a pivotal scene is seemingly shoehorned into proceedings, almost to give the film somewhere to go. It shows the film at it's most conventional but also highlights a slight imbalance between the characters we've been watching. While the hints to something deeper lie in between the lines of Shame, there's an act given to us that feels that one more piece of the puzzle may not have hurt.

However, this is part of the "fun" of Shame. I need to watch again because I fear I've missed something. The final moments are a recall of the train scene. It's a tease. We witness the girl again in similar circumstances, but something's different. The positions have been altered slightly. Her posture has not only changed, but challenges us in so many ways. We look at her reactions compared to before. The final moments focus on Fassbender's Brandon's face which is equally as provocative. I hope the cartoon went to a different setting.

*Since writing this I have read Ashley Clarke's exceptional piece on Shame, which is here