Shame is far from reality
Starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. Rated 18A.
In case you were wondering, Shame is here to tell you that there just might be a downside to having indiscriminate sex with hookers and pickups, watching pay porn when you should be working, and starting careless affairs at the office.
This second film from U.K. artist Steve McQueen (not the movie star) is also his sophomore fling with Michael Fassbender. In Hunger, the Irish-German actor played IRA hunger striker Bobby Sand, and we’ll soon see him, in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, as a sexually tormented Carl Jung. Here, Fassbender has nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to the full-frontal stuff, but he doesn’t resemble a real person. Even the alleged Manhattan where this corporate zombie keeps his Spartan pad scarcely suggests New York City. Like Lars von Trier, McQueen has certain ideas about America and human behaviour, and he’s not going to let context, psychology, or basic rules of storytelling get in the way of shallow sermonizing.
It may be bad to live from pleasure to pleasure, but Brandon—almost the guy in American Psycho, less a sense of humour—thinks actual connection is even worse. So he’s, like, really freaked out when his whiney sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan, struggling with her placeless Yank accent), shows up with undiscussed baggage from their possibly sordid childhood.
Working from a threadbare script by The Iron Lady’s Abi Morgan, the director makes Sissy a struggling singer, mostly so she can intone a version of “New York, New York” so slow that it makes Diane Keaton’s ballad in Annie Hall sound like “Strike Up the Band”. That famous sequence was likewise shot entirely in close-up, but there it helped convey the moment that Woody Allen’s character fell in love. In Shame’s numbingly aestheticized, anti-erotic domain, the beautiful compositions and acting crescendos signify nothing—or nothing you can’t get from movies that are smarter, deeper, and tinged by something like self-knowledge.
Watch the trailer for Shame.