PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Nothing Shameful in 'Shame'

Carey Mulligan in Shame (2011)

Everyone involved in Shame, including the deservedly-praised Michael Fassbender, should be quite proud of their distressing product.


Shame

Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
Length: 101 minutes
Studio: Film4, See-Saw Films, UK Film Council, Momentum Pictures, Lipsync Productions, HanWay Films
Year: 2011
Distributor: Fox
MPAA Rating: NC-17 for some explicit sexual content
Release date: 2012-04-17

Shame, a dark, difficult drama from dark, difficult director Steve McQueen, received the bulk of its attention for two distinctions. The first is its much-publicized NC-17 rating, thanks to a few medium close-ups of Michael Fassbender’s now famous Fassbender. Though the rating usually turns its labelee into a box office pariah, almost all of the movie’s marketing seemed aimed at reminding viewers of the film’s risqué nature and revealing shots.

It didn’t pay off. Despite Fassbender’s much hyped, er, performance, Shame earned less than $4 million in the US and failed to net its leading man an Oscar nomination. Whether the campaign was designed for the rating or in spite of it, the NC-17 curse struck again. This, though, was not a Bully-esque situation -- McQueen had to know his movie would get slapped with the MPAA’s harshest rating. After all, it earned it.

But Shame also deserved its second most publicized earmark – praise for Fassbender’s brave performance, a word used again and again to exalt the actor’s full-frontal depiction of a sex addict tortured by what many don’t even consider a real affliction. His courage is undeniable – anyone willing to depict themselves fully naked, both physically and emotionally, is a braver man than most. Heck, the majority of the population won’t even speak in public, let alone drop trou. Yet Fassbender is also charged with bringing out the humanity in someone driven to disgusting acts, and he does so with commanding subtlty.

McQueen’s efforts shouldn’t be slighted from his own picture. He’s not only provided two career-making opportunities for Fassbender, but crafted at least one unflinching, riveting account of a man’s downfall through striking visuals and deft framing (I have yet to see the duo’s first collaboration, 2008’s Hunger). He’s also created the most convincing argument for sex addiction’s validity I’ve yet to encounter. It’s a credit to McQueen that you’re not left thinking about the sex scenes or the nudity or the Fassbender after the credits roll. People joke about that because it’s easier than confronting the devastation portrayed in the story. That, though, is what will haunt your post-viewing thoughts.

For those who never read past “Fassbender gets naked” in the earlier reviews, Shame tells the story of Brandon Sullivan (Fassbender) and, to a lesser extinct, his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan). Brandon is a successful businessman in New York City. He lives alone. He makes plenty of money. Everything in his world is meticulously planned. Of course, it kind of has to be – Brandon craves sexual contact almost every waking moment of his life. He surfs internet porn constantly. He uses the restroom at work to relieve his tensions. He’ll even pick up an expensive call girl if he feels the need (which is often).

Yes, Brandon still goes on dates, but only for the same reason. That reason, that urge, that absolute need is put at risk when Sissy decides to stay with him. If you thought Brandon’s life before having a roommate seemed hectic, just wait 'til you see him try to adjust his packed schedule to accomodate an unknowing guest who’s got a stack of issues herself.

This is the basic premise of McQueen’s unrelenting study. It’s sex all the time, but it’s not sexy. It’s too carnal, too stressful, and too displeasing to be enjoyable for Brandon, let alone the audience. Yet McQueen brings out our compassion for Brandon’s situation, partly through Fassbender’s meticulously telling expressions.

Mulligan certainly does her part in creating an appeal for the unappealing duo. So far in her fresh career, Mulligan has played complacent girls forced into action. Here, she’s all action. Sissy is a loud, brash individual who’s not nearly as organized as her big brother. As both Mulligan and Fassbender point out in the disc’s extras, Sissy is the explosion to Brandon’s implosion. The foil couldn’t be more fitting. Mulligan’s performance is just as brave as Fassbender’s (for both reasons) – Hollywood take note.

Sadly, the extras aren’t much more than Mulligan, Fassbender, and McQueen talking. In four three-minute segments and one five-minute featurette, the trio provide their general thoughts on the characters and film they depict. A lot of their thoughts overlap, and the same scenes from the movie are shown again and again (not that there’s a lot of PG-content to choose from). This is a film that really could have benefitted from a director/star commentary track, especially when the two show signs of a fun friendship in their own three-minute clip.

Still, the movie itself has no interest in being fun so it’s almost fitting its extras are all business. Don’t get me wrong -- Shame is a captivating film worthy of all the praise it received and more. It’s just not something I would want to watch again, lest I feel ashamed.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.