BY RICK JACKSON
On the surface, Shame is totally uninteresting and dreadfully slow. However, on another level, it is an excellent character study about human sexuality and how it has driven us insane through our own blameless way of finding an excuse to live without realizing why we are here.
In the one-sheet for the film there is a quote comparing the film to Last Tango In Paris (1973). Bernardo Bertolucci once said he wanted the characters to transform themselves into actors and in a strange way, or perhaps, not, this fits the characters in Shame because they are stuck in lives where life has suddenly become meaningless and as you watch them interact, their aberrant behaviour and lack of responsibility has invaded their spaces that they have suddenly become trapped in a claustrophobic world that is slowly choking them to death.
The quiet desperation of the central character, Brandon (well played by Michael Fassbender) is defined by the limits of his transgressions and the mundane life he has forced himself to lead without compromise and with the guilt and shame he can muster. For him the shame is how he has sucked the life out of him so much, he has become a hollow man and devoid of everything manliness and all that is masculine have been replaced by an existence that has slowly destroying his will to survive, something he doesn't realize until the end of the film.
Director Steve McQueen (Hunger) captures in vivid detail the destruction of our very souls through the unnecessary weight of anger, grief and sadness. This is taken to extremes through the other characters, like Brandon's suicidal sister, Sissy who sees herself as a good singer but refuses to see how her ambition could possibly save her for she is trapped deep within the recesses of her own lack of caring. Her unannounced visits to her brother's become part of her crying game in which she is trying to reach out for help but Brandon fails to see it before it's too late and he cannot save her.
Carey Mulligan gives an excellent supporting as Sissy and her scenes are are a sad reminder of Sid And Nancy (1986) where the characters also met a grisley end. Her sense of loneliness and helplessness is felt through her emotionless self and, like Brandon, thinks she can find salvation through her sexual encounters which are not completely evident.
When you look around and see how Brandon has lived and watch him slowly descend into darkness, you are left as cold as the ending for there is nothing to feel left except shame for both Brandon and Sissy. They were both handsome examples of the human race and could have overcome their plight had they sought professional help and, thus, explain further why and how they have driven themselves to the brink of death for one and the actual thing for the other.
Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations nicely underscores the quiet verisimilitude and mood created through McQueen's loyalty to the characters and what he sees as the desperation of two people caught in life's own heap of reality.
Just as you are forced to see them react in a way that is unattractive, you, too, are forced to witness what is a form of existence for many like Brandon and Sissy. How you understand them is the key to also understanding the compelling nature of ourselves as victims of our own lack of self worth. It is something to think about.
It is rated 18A, with the warnings: coarse language, nudity and sexual content.
March 31, 2012
Copyright Rick Jackson 2012