A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
At no point in this film does it seem like the protagonist feels this emotion. It’s almost as if the film is saying “What a shame that this is what it has come to”. Shame left me completely shell-shocked by the character of Brandon Sullivan (played so brilliantly by Michael Fassbender). This is director Steve McQueen’s second feature, and also second time he has used Fassbender in a leading role. The rough narrative deals with two damaged souls/siblings who are dealing with their past in different ways. One through addiction to sex and the other through being an aimless wanderer begging for a connection. Both are self-destructive. Carey Mulligan plays the sister Sissy Sullivan, and is equally good. Her rendition of ‘New York, New York’ is such a vulnerable, heart-on-your-sleeve musical moment that you’re compelled to pay attention. She sang it live in the film and the reactions of the other actors are completely real, as this scene had not been rehearsed with her singing prior to filming. This scene is just one example of what makes up such an emotionally powerful film.
McQueen’s filmmaking touch is a thing of class. His background is as an installation artist (he won the 1999 Turner Prize). The sweeping, moody orchestral score also can’t be ignored. There are plenty of long, languid scenes shot over a single, spellbinding take such as Brandon running away, physically and emotionally, from his sister having a sexual encounter in his apartment. There are flickers of Patrick Bateman in the character of Brandon too with the slick high-rise New York City apartment, corporate career and seedy secret life.
Some of the scenarios seem a little ‘un’-real (does anyone still by porno mags?) but so many scenes of human interaction jaw-droppingly realistic. When Brandon’s boss played by James Badge Dale (who does some of the best acting in the film), tries to pick up a suited blonde woman and then later, Sissy after she performs, he absolutely nails it. He’s just as good as he skypes his kids from the office. It’s such a treat to watch really good acting- because the actor makes it look easy. Just as good in the script-writing department is the date scene with Brandon and his work colleague. The whole restaurant experience depicted is something we can relate to.
The film never asks us for pity and Brandon never looks like he is enjoying a minute of his life. The emotional complexity of his everday life is handled very well by Fassbender (it’s a real shock that he was denied a ‘Best Actor’ nomination for the Oscars). One thing that didn’t sit well with me script-wise was the point where Brandon ends up at a red-light district gay club and it’s almost as if we are being told “Now he’s desperate and he’s reallllly done it” which was oddly homophobic.
The surprise in this film comes from it’s rawness. The pain of these siblings and their untold backstory have brought them to where they are today. The (what must be) disturbing history is best kept unknown, and this mystery acts as an important vehicle in the film. People might come to this movie hearing about Fassbender’s full frontal nudity but actually, once you walk out it’s the last thing on your mind. Their emotional nakedness is what really confronts and lingers.
We have 20 double passes to give away for ‘Shame’. To win, just tell us what the most shameful thing you’ve ever done is (not too much to ask is it?), in the comments below.
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