Check it out... if you seek a film which handles socially-reputed ideals and concepts with maturity, honesty and poignancy
Skip it... if you consider yourself too highbrowed to be subjected to nudity nor vulgarities usually shunned by the masses within cinema, for Shame has no shame in regards to how it handles its heavy metaphors and themes
"Shame serves as one of the most shocking and depraved examinations of human immorality and emotional abuse ever conceived."
Note: It has been 95 days since I've awarded a film a perfect rating.
Innate emotional impediments and mental illnesses are some of the most shunned human conditions within first world civilisation. We often embrace the concept of physical injury, and it's revered within modern male culture as a sign of courage, bravery and experience. When a fellow football player flies into an opponent and emerges with a shattered bone, one may feel it, quite naturally, appropriate to applaud the sheer audacity of the individual. On the other hand, when one is initially approached by a person with a mental ailment, our reaction's predominantly render one of two results: a disbelief of the individual in question, or a smirk. For a child especially, it's rather confusing to come to terms with the notion that one can be hurt from the inside out, rather than vice versa. When one is asked to define or provide examples that relate directly to the word "illness", we are instinctively inclined to mention those of a more exterior-based propensity. I for one am immediately drawn towards visualizing someone experiencing a common flu, or enduring cancer; something fundamentally somatic. In comparison to a physical affliction, mental disorders seem tame and almost compromising. Stigmas have formed since their preliminary conceptualization and diagnosis, and contemporary perspectives have previously evaded further research of the topic.
Fortunately, in today's medically-proficient society, we're willing to impart knowledge on the younger of our time and advise them on respecting the independent requirements of every human being on the planet. With films like Elysium in the mix, modern pop-culture further understands the need for universal medical accessibility. With the steady rise in recorded cases for mental instability, unhealthiness, illness or disability, we are now being forced to pay attention to a growing concern that can affect even the most cleanly, intelligent and fit individuals.
Case in point: Brandon Sullivan. Wealthy businessman. Residing in a slick and expensive apartment in the more financially intensive areas of New York. Handsome and intelligent. He is in impeccable physical shape, his body seemingly molded to perfection. But underneath his mask of normalcy lies a disturbing truth: the man is a sex addict. He's an emotionally distraught victim of a mental illness that has procured an intolerance from the orthodox that has refused him leniency. Whereas other addictions are treated as serious personality conflicts, sex addiction is eschewed from talk, relegated to lesser importance. Many consider it fallacious; made-up by those called names by others due to their sexually promiscuous actions. This is, of course, untrue, professionals existing and specializing in the treatment of such an ailment. Still, many hold a disdain for the illness and refuse to acknowledge its life-altering effects.
Brandon is an individual who possesses such an illness. Much as drug-abusers utilize their illicit substances to achieve marginal satisfaction, Brandon is addicted to a constant stream of sexually engaging material. Whilst he does manage to find time to pick up women at the bar, almost unintentionally, he also dedicates much of his downtime to roaming the Internet, trawling for pornographic substance. He owns a wide range of magazines featuring graphic imagery; breasts, vagina's, penis' and all. Whereas for your average human being, orgasm is a treasured and intimate affair, Brandon climaxes with a sort of reluctance, his inability to attain emotional contentment from his actions his defining pitfall. His body calls out for a release much as a baby shrieks for its mother's milk, only upon sucking at the teat of his ineradicable behavior, he is not rendered replete but only minutely content. As such, he returns to the same heinous activities time and time again, intercourse embodying less of an intimate or erotic deed than a compulsory motion. There is no desire in his eyes as he moves his hips, pleasuring a woman and supposedly himself; only a waning desire for dull elation, that when achieved, lacks the impact he sought all along.
He is a cold and stark beast of a man, but director and screenwriter Steve McQueen makes it abundantly clear that it is not necessarily his fault, but that of his ingrained inclination. He is a victim of his own body and desires. We can refute him for his refusal to see the truth and remark upon his unhealthy way of life, but even then, can we blame him? To live in a world which loathes the kind of exploits Brandon craves and divulges in on a daily basis must be a harsh fate and existence. We yearn for his own personal gratification, but it shan't ever occur. He is as aimless as he is troubled.
Shame is Steve McQueen's analysis of not only the intuitive hindrance that is an addiction to sexual intercourse; it is an exploration of human connection and our requirement for its place in our lives. It is a meticulous, gargantuan achievement, revered by myself and many others for its bravery, both in its most pronounced and profound of moments, as well as the quiet instances of personal discomfort. Headed by Michael Fassbender, a common collaborator of McQueen's, the film derives its moral from the story of Brandon. Fassbender immerses himself in this world of solitary debauchery and brings to life one of the most full-blooded characters I've ever bared eyes on. Alongside him is the gorgeous Carrie Mulligan, whose performance as Brandon's sibling Sissy is as harrowing and evocative as any I've seen recently. Together, accompanied by the masterful gaze of McQueen and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, Shame serves as one of the most shocking and depraved examinations of human immorality and emotional abuse ever conceived. It is also one of the finest films I've ever happened across.
Brandon's life is interrupted by Sissy as she inserts herself into his daily priorities. His privacy is immediately discounted, and she becomes a complication in regards to both his sexual indulgences as well as his professional endeavors. But her involvement in his actions means he can no longer outright dismiss his constant sexual needs as anything less than an issue that requires taming. Thrown out of his shame-filled schedule, he is forced to protect the interest's of his younger sister, a volatile and emotionally fraught human being. They fit together perfectly; two good-looking people who possess underlying personality disorders. Even real life psychiatrist Dr. Abby Seltzer, during her review of the film, has stated that she diagnosed Sissy with Borderline Personality Disorder. Her irrational and eccentric behavior lacks a definitive goal and oft-times, a shred of logical impression. This is a dichotomy from the clean-cut and specific nature of Brandon's routine, his life ordered in a consistent fashion that allows him appropriate time to indulge his addiction, licentious conduct and all. Ultimately, though, they share but a single similarity; the shattered remains of a traumatic childhood, as we can discern from their dialogues and actions. Even in their most disorderly of occasions, they are drawn together as survivors of the same disgusting perversion.
The cold and analytical approach McQueen, Bobbitt and gaffer William Newell utilize to enunciate Brandon's self decline is contrasted at various points with heightened occurrences of warm solace, the lighting palette turning from its concrete grey and inhospitable blues to a homely golden sheen, reflecting a potential for personal discretion on behalf of the protagonist. The film seems to gift him opportunities to relent from his unsavoury tendencies, presenting a comfortable atmosphere to relax within. Such is most observable during sequences of brief attachment induced between Brandon and Sissy. In the most utterly sublime of scenes provided, Sissy delivers a vocal performance that not only captures the interests of Brandon, a sly or intelligent remark made impossible due to the emotional bravado illustrated in her performance; it also enthralls the audience in a vice of which one can not escape. Tears washed down my face as Carrie Mulligan delivered what will undoubtedly be considered her finest performance in years to come. Moments of such insane evocation and sentimental capacity maintain me in rapt silence and should never be ignored; this scene in question deserves universal acclaim for the emotion it conveys.
But time and time again, we are drawn back to the same kind of desperate, depressive and shameful deeds of misdemeanor that are committed by both our protagonist and his sibling. Despite moments of appropriate vexation which allow them breaks from their slowly intensifying apprehension and anxiety, they are always seized and brought back to their original, innate, primal selves. They continue to display remnants of maintained and budding personality conflicts all throughout, before they are eventually forced to seek fulfillment from more devious, inhibited ways. Brandon's reclusive temperament leads him to commit acts of which we would initially consider incomprehensible and insubstantial, but remain understandable in what could be deemed an intoxicated state; both due to alcoholic influence and his own rampant desire. Pushed to their limits, both Brandon and Sissy venture into dangerous waters of which we are scared they shan't ever return.
But again, it's their connection that both tugs them and forms them together again. They are their undoings, but they are also entirely necessary to prevent relapse. To stop an addiction, there must be a motive; Sissy provides Brandon an acceptable reason as to why he should concede defeat and either seek help or go cold turkey. Brandon helps to, for much of their time together, keep Sissy together. Without his reprimands, she could deviate to a path of utter ruination. He elicits direction in her maddening and bustling universe. Despite the problems their interactions may incur, they are necessary for each other to achieve their desired results.
Every shot, every note of music, every light; all are designed to prompt an emotional reaction from the audience, and McQueen achieves as such. Having not seen his initial feature length film Hunger, I can not justifiably assert this opinion with any conviction, but all the same, I wholly believe that with films of the likes of Shame and 12 Years A Slave under his belt, McQueen shall soon become one of the most esteemed filmmakers to have ever graced the screen with his efforts. Every angle is a masterwork, whether being used to visually enunciate the fact that Brandon is being painted into a corner or that he is attempting to outrun his addiction but being caught by it at every turn; it all works to a superb degree. His production design, executed in this instance by Judy Becker, evokes a crisp gleam of professionalism that masks the real human that Brandon is, from stainless steel appliances to windows of all assortment and size; to rooms painted in a distant blue that seem at once hostile yet calm. The film falters but slightly with its predictable but always effective score from Harry Escott, his central motif repeating constantly in a four-note ostinato that does not seem beckon great differentiation over the duration of the film. It also draws comparisons to Hans Zimmer's trait theme for The Thin Red Line (which that aforementioned composer has repeatedly used within a number of subsequent projects). Fortunately, the concept provides enough size, intimacy and emotion over its plethora of uses to be considered effective in context. Outside of such, it's nothing particularly outstanding.
Where many will be turned off with Shame is the honesty of the exploit, both in terms of the nudity, the lead performance and the thin plot. Michael Fassbender bares all physically and emotionally, his approach to Brandon full of torment and grief, misery and pain. Without even words he evokes the most pained performance I have ever witnessed in the history of cinema; without even looking towards the camera, we can grasp his emptiness, bred from the years of solitude that he housed himself within. I doubt any other actor could have better communicated the agony within the protagonist than Fassbender, and for that, he achieves a level of transcendent perfection that is virtually innumerable. Much is the case with Shame as a whole; whilst it does not possess a traditional plot, it contains a story that compels just as heartily as a motion picture which does. It rides the heels of its commanding central presences and provides commentary on one of the most overlooked illnesses in today's condescending culture. The title is the perfect description of both the film as a whole, and of our desperate and brilliant protagonist Brandon; shamed by the world 'tis true. Shamed by those he loves. Shamed by those he appeared to love. Shamed by any and all. But above all else: shamed by himself.
We're not bad people. We just come from a bad place.