Shame ★★★★½

Shame, Shame, what to say about Shame?


The almost extreme extent to which Steve McQueen has really bent the filmic medium to his will, creating a pretty well-defined style in only two films. Although still not a traditional narrative, and maybe not even a full character portrait (or is that the point?), Shame is still something slightly more than an experimental art piece, it is definitely cinematic. McQueen's filmmaking is more of the same as we saw from Hunger, and all at once more refined, more controlled, more restrained, more expressive. He is refusing to work within established boundaries, and instead is creating products that are very much their own thing.

The characters McQueen creates in Brandon, Cissy, and even the boss, David, are characters who all struggle with control, and their inability to control (to varying extents) their needs. Brandon can control every aspect of his life, except for his constant need to fuck. His environment, his appearance, his lifestyle, his emotions, are all carefully controlled - until Cissy shows up. I think that the shame comes not directly from his sexual addiction, but from the loss of control that this addiction causes.

Michael Fassbender as Brandon is a wonder. Watching him portray the slipping effortlessness of being Brandon, to the serious strain of keeping himself in check, to losing all control and surrendering to self-destruction, rage, pleasure, despair - a stellar, nuanced, intense performance.

Carey Mulligan was excellent as Cissy, able to capture what a hot mess of a person she is, innocent yet weary, someone who does not see the point in the type of control over life that Brandon so desperately clings to.

I've also been thinking about Shame in relation to Melancholia - both films that take, as their subject and title, a singular emotion. Both films that take place in fairly insular worlds. Both films that address, or at least bring up, some sort of alienation of the super rich and outwardly successful (is this a real issue that needs that to be addressed? Moving on...). But whereas Shame left me feeling no emotion, which I think was intentional, Melancholia left me feeling all of the emotion. The scope and scale of these films are different, both equally valid, but on these counts I do not love Shame like I love Melancholia. I think it's excellent, and I recommend it highly, but I still found myself craving some emotional connection with the film. That probably was the point.

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