Pushing the Line of Morality
The vanity of living in the world’s busiest city with everything at your fingertips can push the line of morality to its limits, sometimes even surpassing it. That is exactly what happens to the main character in Steve McQueen’s (Hunger) latest drama Shame.
Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a successful marketing executive with a very dark secret he carefully keeps under wraps: he is an out of control sex addict. He will go at it with anyone, anywhere, anytime. He feeds his sexual frenzy through random encounters with multiple women on a daily basis, and with a manic appetite to pornography. One day his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), a struggling singer/actress pays him a surprise visit and announces that she will be staying with him. Not having much say in the matter (she is too convincing) he agrees to let her stay but only for a few days. Inevitably, her stay impedes on his habits and he quickly becomes frustrated with her presence. However, he hasn’t realized the depth of her own psychological meltdown, and Sissy’s presence escalates Brandon’s behavior from mere frustration to aggression, changing both their lives forever.
The film boasts great artistic merit. McQueen manages to internalize Brandon’s conflicts and sexual endeavors as a magnificent work of visual art. The beautiful opening montage sequence sets up the story through intercuts between numerous sex scenes and a dire bedroom of the bachelor on the morning after. Through the comprehensive use of lighting, framing, and the classical music score -- which complements the sauté of Brandon’s emotional scourge and gives a taste of what’s to come -- the film has much to illustrate, even while the characters themselves say very little.
What stands out most for me about Shame involves how the film seduces us with its minimal use of dialogue. McQueen, who also scripted the film, displays a great sense for “less is more” in a visual medium, which can sometimes be daunting, even artistically polarizing and painful to watch. However, this film is made from a tight script and includes gutsy dramatic beats throughout the narrative.
Michael Fassbender also deserves recognition for his splendid portrayal of a character with so many silent, ravaging out-of- control desires. This fine actor brings these dark elements out subtly, yet leaves the viewer begging to know more.
(Released by Fox Searchlight and rated “NC-17” for some explicit sexual content.)