Justin Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
The shame of becoming the shell of a person lost in an endless hole of lustful desire.
"You're just dragging me down. How are you helping me? You can't even clean up after yourself. Stop playing the victim ... I'm not playing the victim. If I left, I would never hear from you again. Don't you think that's sad? Don't you think that's sad? You're my brother."
When it comes to modern emotionally powerful arthouse cinema I don't think any Director and Actor duo comes close to Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are great too, but they are more on the Blockbuster side of movies.
I watched Shame way back in December, and I am just getting a chance to write about it. So it was an interesting process reading back over the plot and combing back through the movie to pick up on these heavy themes the film presents about addiction, emptiness, being dissatisfied, and regret. With this character played by Michael Fassbender with his excellent masculine physique, you would wonder how someone like that could be so unfulfilled. And the film does a great job of unwrapping the mentality of this character, to show what makes him tick and what has brought him to this point of despair.
The first element that really struck me was the incredible score that sets this mood of somber melancholy. It even features a ticking sound toward the beginning to hint how lost in time he has become in this routine of pornography and having sex with prostitutes. Where the main cycle of the movie kicks off, is with the woman in the purple on the subway. Damn is this a sensual scene as each of them proceeds to 'eye-fuck' each other. And when the shot of her wedding ring comes into play, you see that look of confusion in her eye about whether or not it would be worth it to act on these powerful desires.
Only upon prepping for this review did I notice just how empty/sterile his apartment is with no decorations. Just white walls all around, to show how much of a blank slate he truly is. The short scene where he feels the need to clean off his work toilet before masturbating only reinforces how he likes his surroundings to be so clean and plain. We also see how he is the kind of guy that could just look at a girl and make her want him, while the average joe like his boss has no chance with these same women despite trying to show them a good time.
But that balance is completely thrown off when his sister arrives to bring him back into what he would likely think of as the 'chaos' of humanity. Maqueen's signature technique is locking the camera down for these intense long shots that are filled with so much emotion. There are a couple of them in Shame including the 'New York New York' performance from his sister, and his jog through the city. I found the musical performance especially meaningful this time with how he reacts to it. I think he is most impacted by the lyrics that talk about being the most popular guy in town. He regrets how he is completely capable of being that guy, if it were not for him being locked into this minimal existence of perversion. When his sister hooks up with his boss in his apartment, he is so thrown out of his rhythm that he must run away from it all, as he goes on this jog.
With him out of his routine he goes on a date with a colleague at his office. Right before he meets up with her he looks at two people having sex in a window, to show that is all he really cares about. During the date McQueen once again locks down the camera for us to watch the awkwardness ensue, as he shows his true feelings about life and along with having to deal with their terrible waiter. It is so interesting to see the body language his date Marianne has, who manages to stay interested in him despite him saying all the wrong things.
He proceeds to tell her how he finds relationships and monogamy dull, and she holds her ground by explaining how people with a loving connection don't need to constantly entertain each other to feel satisfied. Then we find out how much of a wild life he wishes he had, with dreaming of being a rock star in the 60s, while she is completely fine just living in the now. And he finds that desire to be so off putting, since his 'now' is so twisted and he feels the need to be somewhere or someone else.
He later gets her to come to a beautiful room with him, and discovers that he is actually unable to performer sexually when he is with a normal woman looking to have a pleasureful experience. But then once again when the sex is meaningless with a prostitute, he has no problem performing. He tires to be relatable with the prostitute by helping her with her bra, but she has no interest in that.
Almost having reached his lowest point he goes out to shake things up even more by intentionally trying to get his ass kicked by pervertedly antagonizing a couple. That is followed up by him having a random hookup with a guy in a gay club, which is then followed by him having the most painfully sad and miserable looking ménage à trois of all time. At this point you would think he was at his absolute lowest point, but it only gets worse when he finds his sister slowly bleeding to death in his apartment. Their relationship is the ultimate metaphor for showing how one person can look and act like a mess on the outside, while the other person is the exact same way just internally ... along with their messily mounting sexual exploits.
"Listen, one more thing. Your hard drive is filthy, all right. We got your computer back. I mean, it is, it is, dirty ... Yeah, someone's fucking with your account, man. And we're blowing our wad in cash, you know? It takes a really really sick fuck to spend all day on that shit."
In the end he seems to have come full circle and pulled himself together. Then he once again sees the woman on the subway who gazes at him lustfully. She is still wearing her wedding ring, but looks totally willing to go through with the act of getting with him. But the question is, is this still the kind of life he is leading?
Shame is an incredible character study of a man plagued by his sex addiction. And coming to appreciate this film even more makes me wonder why the hell I have not checked out McQueen's Criterion movie 'Hunger' yet.
Thanks for reading.
Happy movie watching ... SKOL!