Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shame (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


"Shame" the highly anticipated work by edgy director Steve McQueen has arrived at The Tropic. The film concerns the enigmatic and mysterious subject of sex addiction. It is controversial because it is direct. It does not glaze over, embellish or hold back details. But although the subject is somewhat lurid and unseemly, those stricken with the condition are far from monsters. By far, " Shame" is the most realistic film that I've seen depicting the paranoia of sex since "Looking for Mr Goodbar".

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a handsome exec that works in a skyscraper in New York City. From morning till night he is surrounded by hard right angles and geometry: a wall, a door, the bed, a laptop screen. Each interior object is a rectangle of habit and it is often hard to tell if Brandon is sitting up or lying down. Frequently as walls obstruct his body, he is seen in a horizontal position. Brandon lives in a stark, dimmed world. His apartment is an off-gray. In both character and setting, given all its minimalism, the film is reminiscent of "American Psycho" without the black humor.

Although Brandon is handsome, well-off and parties on the weekends, he is cut off. The hourglass shape of a woman's body both daunts and actually haunts him. He prefers solitude. In the company of friends and their hyper, automatic laughter, Brandon is far off in some highly concentrated sexual innerspace that is anything but festive. Brandon spends much of his day with Internet porn.

Carey Mulligan plays Sissy, Brandon's drifter sister. Sissie's dysfunction is ambiguous and hazy, perhaps drugs or an emotional dependance. Brandon tries to open up to his sister and share his domesticity, but because of the spaced out, very real mania that he has, living is touch and go---literally.

The film illustrates a completely sexualized world where Brandon has no way out. Every hotel window in New York becomes a sexual Advent calendar during a lascivious holiday. Any satisfaction that Brandon can hope to seek comes from the shallow buttercreme-textured realms of porn and going out with prostitutes. The city itself seems to have multiple eyes and unseemly tentacles. Sex is no fun in this film. When Brandon is ensnared, he winces in pain: a chiseled, wrenching look of unending torment that recalls a Grunewald Crucifixion---a Passion in flesh.

Even though the sexual realm is seen as viral and ravenous, this is no Cronenberg or Roman Polanski horror film. The sex scenes are naturalistic and plain with no sense of sentimental syrup or malevolence. The three scenes simply show us that sex is primal and central to us, having the power to expose either our intimacies or deliver our dysfunctions. It is a rare thing to see a film about sexual dysfunction that doesn't treat sex itself in an unreal manner but we see it here. Brandon's beautiful co-worker and brief date, Marianne (Nicole Beharie) has the potential to be a life-saver, or perhaps saviour, but she quickly flees from his possession.

"Shame" is believable because Brandon appears so normal at first glance. He is an Everyman becoming robotic by his double life, but no zombie.

Brandon could be any one of us.

Ian at

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