Saturday, 28 January 2012


Transmission Films
Now Showing

No doubt already known to most as the "sex addiction film", artist-cum-director Steve McQueen's sophomore effort, Shame, arrives in Australian cinemas two weeks after its leading man, Michael Fassbender, was "snubbed" in the Academy Awards' Best Actor category for his figuratively, and quite literally, naked performance.

Fassbender plays Brandon, the sex addict in question. A New York corporate type, Brandon lives alone in his sterile high rise apartment with nothing for company but a huge cache of pornography and the occasional female escort. And when at work, without access to either - his office computer is confiscated to be cleaned of online porn: "must have been the intern" - Brandon visits the men's room to relieve himself.

Addict or compulsive, Brandon's sexual (over)drive - his shame - causes or enables his solitary existence; he's never been in a relationship longer than a few months and he certainly doesn't believe in marriage or the monogamous state. Emotions and connections are kept at arms length, and that includes family.

Sissy (Carey Mulligan) is Brandon's younger sister, who is as expressive and emotionally needy as he is shut-off, and when she arrives, unannounced and uninvited, to stay with him while in town to perform as a lounge act, it precipitates big brother's free-fall.

"You trap me", Brandon hisses at Sissy in one of their many fraught encounters. Indeed, every scene involving Fassbender and Mulligan (better served here than in 2011's Drive, but still not used nearly enough) had me on edge and feeling more than a little queasy. Given Brandon's compulsion and the pair's seeming lack of inhibition around each other, one almost suspects events to take a too familial turn.

The nature of their relationship, and what may have transpired in their youth, is never explored in Shame, nor how Brandon came to suffer his addiction/affliction. McQueen and screenwriter, Abi Morgan (who also penned The Iron Lady), aren't so much concerned with Brandon's rise (no pun intended) but his fall, most of which takes place in one crazily eventful night.

The events of that night are no doubt responsible for Shame receiving an R-rating in Australia (which I think is unnecessary), and may have others thinking that, much like Fassbender throughout the film, the Emperor has no clothes.

For there is an argument to be made that McQueen's film, as intense and discomfiting as his 2008 debut, Hunger, isn't nearly as deep and meaningful as it thinks it is - that it's as empty as its protagonist's existence - despite the use of the almost-incessant classical music to have you believe otherwise.

But there's no denying the intensity of Michael Fassbender's performance. He commits fully to the role of a man unable to control his urges, or his anger, and who is sent into a downward spiral as a result. It's a bravura performance deserving of all the accolades it's garnered thus far (Academy be damned!).

Of course, it's absurd to rank art, or single out a mere five performances as "the best" in any given year. As equally absurd as leaving Fassbender (and Michael Shannon in Take Shelter, for that matter) out of just such a list. For shame.

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