365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


Shame (2011)

Shame was that 2011 movie that most people heard about, but few people saw. It happens to at least one movie each year. In 2009, the movie that was identified with this label (The Hurt Locker) ended up winning a Best Picture Academy Award and put the talented Jeremy Renner on the map for the first time. In the case of Shame, there was more of a reason for its obscurity than some of the movies in other years. Shame is rated NC-17 and rightfully so. It chronicles the day to day lifestyle of Brandon (Michael Fassbender - A Dangerous Method, Haywire), a 30-something year-old man who is addicted to sex. Fassbender was thought to be a lock for an Academy Award Best Actor nomination after earning similar recognition at other awards ceremonies, including The Golden Globes. Fassbender, however, was not one of the five finalists for acting's most prestigious award.

Brandon is handsome and extremely fit man. He has a lucrative job that he is very successful at. He lives in an undecorated, one bedroom condo in Manhattan Upper East Side. While he can engage socially with his colleagues after a day of work, he would prefer to be alone and away from contact of those who know him. He isn't able to connect with anyone. He is clean, quiet, deliberate. He calls in high-end prostitutes, masturbates frequently in the public bathrooms at his work, looks at pornography on his company laptop, and has sex with attractive women, whom he just met, in the dark New York City alleys. He does each of these things to get him through his days. The way he looks at attractive women on the subway is not similar to how a man might flirt with a woman just by eye contact...the old making eye contact, looking away shyly, looking back, making eye contact again, smiling wryly again). Brandon just stares and doesn't look away. He doesn't small or even change facial expressions. He just stares in a way that is so harrowing that even we feel uncomfortable as audience members.

The life of a sex addict is portrayed as a very secretive one and a very unhappy one. Sex, one of the most pleasurable experiences in the entire world that one can have, is the source of Brandon's intense pain. Just like other addictions such as alcohol, gambling, eating, cigarettes, sex addiction can seem harmless at the beginning and bring an enormous amount of pleasure. But once the relentlessness or the need to have it any cost to keep you going kicks in, you become a slave to the addiction. However, one big difference between sex addiction and most of the other addictions in the world is that you can't cure yourself by cutting it out of your life. An alcoholic improves by do his/her best to not drink alcohol. Sex is human nature. It is innate in all of us. Curing sexual addiction is not the same as curing other addictions (I watch intervention shows a lot). This aspect of the movie is not touched upon nor should it have been. There isn't nearly enough time to address all of the characteristics associated with this addiction. In fact, in Shame, Brandon's addiction to sex goes unnoticed by those who are the closest to him. When his boss at work tells him that when fixing a virus on his computer, there was some filthy pornography discovered on it, his boss's only real question to Brandon was "Do you think your intern was on it while you were away from your desk?" Brandon doesn't connect with the person is with on a physical level. His drive is to find occasions for orgasm. It's not for pleasure. It's so he can continue functioning.

It is implied, but not directly inferred, that Brandon does look at pornography while at work. We know this because while his laptop his being cured of its virus at work, he has his own laptop at his home that he is seen looking at pornography on. I would assume that looking at pornography at work doesn't initially quite reach the level of drinking alcohol while at work, I could see how it could be a serious problem if it is not stopped. While Brandon, i'm sure, was made aware of this when he received his company laptop, the threat of losing such a great job might not be important enough to curb his habit. Speaking of work, Brandon tries to keep his personal life separate from work. However, when asks his attractive co-worker Marianne (Nicole Beharie - American Violet), those two worlds converge. He gets to know Marianne as a person and not just a sex object. They don't have sex after their first date. New feelings are racing through Brandon's head so, at his next chance, he lures her back to his apartment. What happens next is just sad. We are sad for him and become aware of just how powerful the addiction can be.

We are certain what has occurred in Brandon's past that has contributed to sex addict he has become today. McQueeen thought this was build some intrigue, leaving it to the viewer to decide what might have happened. I'm okay with that except for the fact that something similar happened to his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan - An Education, Drive). After being unable to reach her brother by phone (we hear her frequent messages on his answering machine), she shows up unannounced to his condo and asking him to stay because she has no other place to go. Though it is the last thing that he wants, he reluctantly agrees to let her stay temporarily. Sissy has her own set of problems that she is working through. Her story is secondary and she might be brought into the mix to show that Brandon is uninterested and/or unable to care for anybody, even when the person is closest to needs him the most.

Shame is not perfect, but it also isn't the same story we've seen played out on the screen time and time again. Fassbender and director Steve McQueen (Hunger) both take huge risks in this movie. It is a story that many great and directors wouldn't even consider. Sex addiction is a taboo topic in the United States. We don't talk about it and don't know much about it. Even the American Psychology Association (APA) can't be certain that it is a disorder. In the mid 1980's the APA identified sexual addiction as a mental disorder involving "distress about a pattern of repeated sexual conquests … involving a succession of people who exist only as things to be used." But this is not the case anymore. The fact that the APA abandoned this definition further demonstrates how unknown sexual addiction is and how harmful it is to ourselves and our relationships with others. But because this movie is so original and explores a topic that is so unmentionable, it is allowed to get away with some of the errors that might not be allowed in other movies.

I would have given a Best Actor Academy Award nomination to Fassbender. Though he has been appearing regularly in films since 2007, Shame is really the first movie that revolved around his character. This was really my first time noticing him in a film. Good or bad, I had nothing to compare his performance against. With that said, I am happy this was my first introduction to this actor. While viewing this film, I never felt like I was watching a movie. It felt like I was getting a glimpse into the life of a real person with this real addiction. If I were to nominate Fassbender for a Best Oscar, I would need to replace someone who is already there. As stated in my review on Take Shelter, I already gave my fifth Academy Award Best Actor nomination to Michael Shannon for his performance. I replaced Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). The other nominees in 2011 were Jean Dujardin (The Artist), George Clooney (The Descendants), Brad Pitt (Moneyball), and Demian Birchir (A Better Life). Though I have not seen The Artist, I am going to leave Dujardin as a nominee. He ended up winning the award and I'm sure I'll be wowed by his performance just like everyone else was. The other three performances were really good, but I think all three come short of Fassbender's performance. Though I thought Clooney did a great job in The Descendants, he is the one who I would replace. Pitt's and Birchir's performances were slightly better than Clooney's in my opinion.

Plot 10/10 (a difficult and controversial topic that needs to be discussed more and displayed in the arts)
Character Development 9/10 (it is certainly difficult to tell the whole story in one hour and forty minutes. Fassbender builds his character well. Mulligan does well in her limited time on screen. I wish we could get into their minds a little more or learn about some of the back story that occurs before this film. What, in the past, contributed to making these characters who they are today?) 
Character Chemistry 9/10
Acting 10/10 (two knockout performances by Fassbender and Mulligan)
Screenplay 9
Directing  8.5/10 (some errors, maybe intentional, maybe not. I don't mind leaving a film asking myself questions, but I don't like leaving confused. There was one scene in particular that had me utterly confused. If you see the movie, you'll know exactly which scene I'm referring to)
Cinematography 8.5/10 (beautiful, beautiful people in this movie. Carey Mulligan is hardly recognizable. However, I didn't like the angles of the condo. I thought that this condo was terrible as the central background of this movie)
Sound 10/10 (the score for this movie is simply amazing. There are long moments in this movie where all you see is Fassbender's face and all you hear is the deliberately chilling background music)
Hook and Reel 9/10 (it is meticulous, but never slow...there are people who will be disgusted by this movie and/or what it stands for. However, if you know what you are getting yourself into, the tension will build and build until you are certain that something destructive is about to happen)
Universal Relevance 10/10 (there are all kinds of secret obsessions and addictions that go unnoticed by even the people we are closest with...think of how many people get caught in an affair...for every affair that is caught, there are probably five times as many that are forever kept a secret)

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