BLU-RAY REVIEW: SHAME (2011)
There are some movies that some viewers refer to as “misery porn”, a term more associated with literature than with movies, but something nonetheless prevalent in film and television. Misery porn is a story that focuses on bad things happening to people, usually without some good coming from it or any sort of lesson being learned. For instance, in director Mike Cahill’s ANOTHER EARTH, which some may refer to as misery porn, is a story that starts out fast, then goes along at a very slow pace about a young woman who destroys a family because she drove drunk and crashed into their car, leaving a man in a coma with permanent physical and mental complications and a dead wife and son. Without spoiling the plot of the film, the characters learn from the experience and the film does not completely focus on the tragedy of events and good drama is created within the film.
Now lets take a look at Steve McQueen’s SHAME, a film about a sex addict whose sister decides to show up at his apartment uninvited one day and live at his place indefinitely. Not as terrible as having a guilty conscience for killing two people (one a small child) and ruining a man’s life, SHAME just focuses on a man whose life is completely overtaken by his addiction for sex and porn. Sex can be an addiction just like alcohol and drugs or any other type of uncontrollable urge to have to do something no matter what else is going on at the moment. Hell, I may be addicted to collecting movies, or at least watching them. I think that any film buff could fairly be charged with this form of addiction. Hell, I guess the best part about having an addiction is having a total lack of self-control and not being able to control it.
With SHAME, Michael Fassbender’s character Brandon Sullivan is addicted to sex. I think that this statement may sound a little odd, at first. I personally, thinking enjoying and having fun during sex and the act of sex is natural…and normal. However, sex addiction, as portrayed in McQueen’s SHAME is somewhat over the top. The film, in basic terms, is a day in the life of a sex addict over the course of a week or two (the time-frame I am throwing out there is a guess)
Fassbender, playing sex addict Brandon Sullivan, has a successful career, makes seemingly good money, and fairs very well with the ladies. His apartment looks really nice and is in what appears to be hip part of New York City in Manhattan. He goes to work, has a relationship outside of work with his boss as his friend, and goes out in social settings with him. Then we see him going into the men’s bathroom at work and masturbating during the middle of the day. We see Sullivan having a conversation with his boss asking why his computer desktop was taken away by the computer tech guys who work for the company and how Sullivan reacted with a look of concern as his boss tells him they are installing some programs on it. Things start to slowly add up, building momentum and creating an ever growing bubble showing viewers how deep and intense this addiction to sex is.
Sullivan comes home from a hard day of work, acting “normal” and pleasant amongst his co-workers but we see him sitting at his work computer looking at porn sites when not actually working. Some folks play solitaire or read their personal emails or even go on Facebook and Twitter when not actually working, but Sullivan watches dirty, nasty, explicit porn and surfs those websites. I enjoy porn as much as the next guy or gal, but I NEVER risk losing a job over it by surfing the net on those types of sites while working. After all, there is a time and place for everything. Fassbender does an excellent job portraying a man whose life is controlled by his addiction for porn and sex.
Now one who is addicted to sex, as portrayed in SHAME, is incapable of having a healthy relationship with a nice woman. Sullivan goes on a date with a co-worker who was very flirtatious with him in the break room at work during one day and they meet up for dinner and seem to hit it off, but Marianne (Nicole Beharie) does not even offer him a kiss when they part ways after the date. The next time they meet, they ditch work together and get a room and starting tearing each others’ clothes off for some majorly lustful banging but Sullivan (Fassbender) can’t get a freaking hard-on. He can’t get it up. He has no problem getting an erection when staring at an attractive woman on the subway ride home, practically raping her with his gaze, but when he has a hot and willing young woman ready to bone the dude goes soft. This scene is probably the most miserable thing that could happen in a man’s life and permanently damage his ego and self-esteem. Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen did a great job of writing a story that really portrayed how awful and miserable having an uncontrollable addiction really is.
I thought the film excellently explored sex addiction and my only complaint is the amount of footage that Michael Fassbender was naked in and the full-frontal nudity that accompanied it. Fassbender’s penis was shown more times in the film than most stunt cocks in porn films (not really, but one gets the point!) and while we are on the topic of full-frontal nudity, let’s not forget the very sexy British actress Carrie Mulligan who gets to show off her goods early on in the film when she takes a shower in her brother’s (Fassbender) apartment without asking if she could come over and stay indefinitely beforehand. This scene only lightly begins to show just how damaged Brandon (Fassbender) and his sister Sissy (Mulligan) really are. After all, Brandon, thinking his sister was some intruder who just happens to break into apartments and take showers there, is about to bash the brains in of sees that it is his sister and just stands and stares at her (and we see that she is a brunette) while shouting at her.
If I walked in on my sister after seeing that it was my sister I would immediately leave and have a conversation with her after she wrapped herself in a towel or put some damn clothes on. The whole scene was a whole new level of creepy, even though I was happy to see Mulligan completely nude in a scene shot from a side view. Oddly enough, all of the nudity in the film really wasn’t all the sexy or shocking. It was filmed and presented in a “matter-of-fact” kind of way. It gave the film more of realistic tone and element to it.
As the film moves on, one sees just how much having an “outsider” in his sanctuary and place of living really disrupts his habits and lifestyle. Sissy is a huge train wreck herself and only adds to more complications and personality clashes. It really is true that people like watching tragedy unfold more often than they enjoy seeing things go right because things working out perfectly is really fucking boring.
SHAME had a slick visual style and superb cinematography, among possessing a story and part of life that was not well-known to this viewer. I guess this film is the true definition of misery porn, but it was a film well worth enduring a sitting through. I really recommend checking out the movie, especially if one is a fan of Fassbender, his penis, and Mulligan (who won me over after watching her act opposite Ryan Gosling in Refn’s DRIVE––a film that was one of my favorites of the year and possibly of all-time). The end of SHAME is one that I had predicted and really was just icing on the cake of misery, but there were so many other aspects of the film I really enjoyed that the fairly predictable ending was trumped by the rest of the film.