Review by Dwight Casimere October 12, 2011
Photos courtesy Fox Searchlight and IMBd
NEW YORK--Black British director Steve McQueen (Commander of the Order of the British Empire, 2011) is back at the New York Film Festival with another blockbuster film, Shame. The man who brought us Hunger (2008), the story of the IRA's Bobby Sands 2008 Hunger strike in a Northern Ireland prison, which won the Camera d'Or at Cannes for first-time film directors and the Diesel Discovery Award at Toronto, won takes us to contemporary Manhattan and the hip, young ingenues of lower Manhattan and their lives filled with sexual addiction.
Shame has already garnered the Best Film Award at the Venice International Film Festival and from the overwhelming response here in New York, it appears to be a shoo-in here.
The plot revolves around the life of 30-something Manhattan resident Brandon (Michael Fassbender, in a searing performance) who lives alone with a libido the size of the Statue of Liberty. When he isn't masturbating or seeing prostitutes, he spends his downtime indulging in online porn. His free-wheeling lifestyle is suddenly interrupted when his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan) sneaks into his apartment and sets up camp indefinitely. Brandon loses it. His rage only fuels his downward spiral.
The film, with its over the top, explicit sexuality is played out against the backdrop of a score dominated by the spare, solo piano of Glen Gould, playing Bach's Goldberg Variations and the Prelude and Fuge in C-minor. The controlled, restrained precision of Bach's music contrasts sharply with the smoldering animalism and torrential rage that lurks beneath Brandon/Fassbender's skin. The eloquent score by composer Harry Escott, with its brooding cello, further illustrates Brandon's deep-seated self-loathing.
Brandon, with his Charlton Heston good looks, is a chick magnet, who could really have just about any woman he wants, but his low self-esteem and his slavish addiction to his urges is a constant obstacle to any real human contact in the form of a lasting relationship. "What's the longest committed relationship you've had," the character Marianne (Nicole Beharie), a young black woman who works in his office, who actually arranged a 'real' date with asks. "Four months," he says sheepishly. That's a great start! When he later tries to make love to her, he completely fizzles and withdraws into his world of self-sexual abuse.
His sister, Sissie is equally as self-flaggelant, only she expresses it by mutilating herself. The flashpoint created by the interaction of Sissie and Brandon finally erupts, pushing Brandon over the edge. After a day and night of completely self-destructive sex, Brandon is brought to his knees emotionally when his sister tries, once again, to commit suicide. There's a tender moment that serves as the denouement to the film, when Brandon gently touches his sister's many self-inflicted scars. We see a closeup of his hands which have long, supple fingers of a piano player's. He strokes her arm gently. In one moment, the Bach score, and the underlying theme of the film all come into focus with stark clarity.
Shame is a superb film, which is directed, shot and acted brilliantly. The original screenplay by British television and playwright Abi Morgan and McQueen's superb directing make this a must-see when the film is released.