Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
Michael Fassbender plays the lead and I can only imagine how tough this role was, as the camera is on him alone a lot of the time and he doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, so the easy way of emoting and conveying to the audience the sense of character is out the window. This is a slow moving film that unfolds its story through sometimes silent, wordless images and the expressions on Fassbender’s face. His character is a stoic and tight-fisted corporate office man who gets his jones by constantly watching porn and getting good looking, often high-class women to come back and have sex with him. It’s almost as if he’s compensating for something.
Until his sister, played by Carey Mulligan, shows up. His sister Sissy is a fun-loving, impulsive and brash young woman whose only job seems to be singing at clubs and sleeping with men, and she cannot seem to get her life together. Mulligan plays the role really well – very spunky and yet haunted character who tries her best to be happy as any average person does. But sometimes trying is not enough, now, is it? The characterization in this is just first rate, and is really the reason the whole thing works so beautifully.
There is also a palpable sense of atmosphere resonating through this movie, of smoky New York city streets flooded with fog, of dark shadowy apartment hallways as if they are hiding some secret that has to be wrenched out, as if it wanted to stay in the shadows in the first place, of empty, white bedrooms in the early mornings with wide, airy panoramic views of the city below, as if the person in that bedroom (well, Fassbender, obviously) is far away from everyone else – separated, alienated by his sex addiction and consequently the secrets buried by that sex addiction.
The film unfolds like an uncoiling serpent, showing you scenes that are sometimes very short and sometimes very long, and always have a great sense of pacing to them – they connect together like a beautiful puzzle. The first ten minutes have almost no words and contain only images of Fassbender engaging in sexual acts or clearly thinking about it as he goes about his day-by-day activities. Once the dialogue is actually introduced, it’s a stark but welcome contrast, and is very well written for that.
Ultimately this is a story of two siblings both going through a hard time. Fassbender is a sex addict on a downward spiral because he can’t find something that truly satisfies his needs. He gets angrier and angrier as the film goes on and takes it all out on Sissy. However, he ignores the fact that she is troubled as well, and ultimately a tragedy results from this miscalculation. Fassbender isn’t perfect – far from it in fact. He’s portrayed as a neurotic, selfish and impudent man whose insecurities and frustrations are channeled through the only outlet that can’t reject you or walk away – family.
There is a lot to be said about life here, like that ultimately, it’s up to you to do what makes you happy sexually and otherwise, no one else will do it for you most of the time. And sometimes, you get lost along the way, because the world has no cheat code manuals or hand-books to help you out of everyday situations, and you get stuck in a rut where you don’t just climb out of it easy. And the downward spiral commences. Shame is about a man at the last edges of his spiral. Beautifully written, beautifully acted and just a haunting and memorable film.