Shame was the other movie I saw yesterday at the most empty and dreary multiplex I’ve ever visited. Let me tell you, I drove a half hour into the depths of industrial nowhere to see these two movies because that was the only place they were being exhibited and if they’d been playing closer to home, I would’ve seen them already. Probably in a theater as full as the one out in Oakville. It’s the end of cinema, delivered to you by a Canadian theater monopoly and the disappearance of the local movie critic. But that isn’t what we’re here to talk about today, we’re here to talk about Shame, the new movie from director Steve McQueen that I’ve been told is one of the best movies I’ll see this year. Certainly the furthest pushing and most transgressive and entirely deserving of its NC-17 rating.
I’ve been told a lot about this movie, and it certainly lived up to its reputation as awkward, brilliant, minimalist, overlong, improvised and awkward. Very awkward. I was also told that I would see Michael Fassbender’s penis. Let it be known, if you have any reservations whatsoever about seeing Michael Fassbender’s penis, you should not see this movie. And I probably should have warned my girlfriend about the fact that she would be seeing Michael Fassbender’s penis. Michael Fassbender, you see, plays Brandon: a young Irish man who has carefully set up his life to support his crippling sex addiction without ever having to feel personally accountable for it. Without having to feel the shame.
All of this, his comfortable extramasturbatory life in New York City, is torn down when his self-harming vocalist sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) comes to stay with him out of the blue. Her sole presence in his life is enough to tear down all the walls that Brandon has built around his addiction to keep him from feeling ashamed and leads to a (week-long, month-long, twenty-five day long?) downward spiral in both of their lives where they have to confront their shameful activities.
I’m making fun of Shame a lot here, but that’s primarily because it’s really good. It’s a fantastic movie that is incredibly difficult to watch and not in the easy, torturous way. It is torturous–it’s awkward, slow, full of unsexy nudity. It’s a really good movie, but, like Carnage yesterday, it’s just a little hollow for precisely the opposite reasons. There’s nearly no dialogue, it crosses every line you can think of. It does it for honest reasons, to be sure, and it’s far more beholden to reality than it is to cinema. Which, again, is a really good fault to have if you’re going to have one, but it’s still disappointing.
There were several moments that in a movie would be foreshadowing, but in Shame are just moments in life. There is no moral message or heavy-handed anything. There’s no grand revelation of the cause of the angst in Brandon and Sissy’s lives. For some reason, he’s oddly possessive of her and interested in her sex life. They see each other naked all the time. They’re very physical. All of the implications of how their angst might have begun or how they might have become the broken people they are–entirely left out. It wouldn’t be mentioned in reality, therefore it isn’t in the movie. Sissy implies she’ll jump in front of a train. You can see how that would play out. It doesn’t.
Shame is fine. It certainly does everything all the people who have seen it before me said it would. But I can’t help but be disappointed by its terribly slow pace and its refusal to get truly crazy until the last twenty minutes. And its dire need to be realistic above all else. I liked Shame, but not much else. Another Oscar movie. Woo hoo. THREE AND A HALF STARS