December 31, 2011

MOVIES: Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)

Shame made me angrier than any movie has in a long time. It presents itself as a bold story of sexual addiction, which is merely an idea it uses to tell an utterly conventional story that reinforces the most Puritan strain of American sexual morality.

In the world of Shame, the only acceptable sex is that found within a monogamous long-term relationship, and even that is only allowed in moderation. Frequent sex, sex with multiple partners, or sexual activity entered into for physical pleasure (as opposed to emotional bonding) is to be condemned in the harshest terms.

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is the movie's protagonist, and because he is attractive enough to pick up women easily, and wealthy enough to hire prostitutes when he likes -- and above all else, because he has lots of sex -- he must be miserably unhappy and incapable of any basic human decency.

His sister (Carey Mulligan) arrives for a visit, and though it's clear that he has her own emotional problems, the blame for her choices and the things that happen to her is placed squarely at Brandon's feet, because y'know, he's a slut.

One particularly offensive moment: Late in the movie, Brandon is put through a "long dark night of the soul" moment, during which he sinks ever deeper into compulsively self-destructive behavior. How does director/co-writer Steve McQueen choose to tell us that Brandon has gone as low as he can go? Why, with a visit to a gay sex club, of course, because nothing's more degrading than that.

Even beyond the movie's ghastly Puritanism, it's just not that well made. McQueen is fond of slow and static moments, apparently thinking there's something profound about them. Take, for instance, Mulligan's 5-minute rendition of "New York, New York," an optimistic anthem that she slogs through as if it were a suicide note; or the long, long, looooooong shot of Fassbender jogging through Manhattan in the middle of the night.

Awful, offensive, insulting, cheap movie. Run from it as fast as your little legs will carry you.

1 comment:

Topiary for a Free World! said...

Thanks for this review. I am so glad I did not see it after all--many reviews pointed this as a must-see but I certainly don't want to after reading your insightful review.

Is there something about Carey Mulligan which brings out semi-comatose filmmaking because it was the same in "Drive" -- long long shots of her saying and doing nothing.

Ugh.