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The Fassweiner Deserves an Oscar!

February 3, 2012
Shame movie poster

I thought a movie involving lots of naked Michael Fassbender would be pretty sexy. Then I saw Shame, and I realized how wrong I was.

Shame is the story of Brandon (Fassbender), a 30-something, mid-level corporate guy who lives alone, keeps to himself, and battles a sexual addiction. One night stands, prostitutes, lad mags, internet porn… you name the outlet, he takes advantage of it. He plays one of the good ol’ boys at work, but otherwise keeps his private life private so as to better hide his addiction. His carefully constructed world begins to collapse when his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), comes to stay.

Spoilers ahead.

Brandon arrives home one night to find Sissy in his apartment. At first thinking it’s an intruder, he grabs a baseball bat and barges into the bathroom only to find his naked sister in the shower. He yells at her for arriving unannounced, she complains about him never returning her phone calls. There is immediately a level of tension between them that lets the audience know their relationship is not an easy one. Their exchange lasts probably 5 minutes. Sissy is naked the entire time. It’s at that point the movie becomes weird and uncomfortable but you are too sucked in to look away.

Steve McQueen (no, not that Steve McQueen) is brilliant at conveying information and ideas about what’s happening onscreen without coming right out and saying it. He makes you feel the tension between Brandon and Sissy. He makes you feel how uncomfortable Brandon is having Sissy there. He makes you feel as if your life is also upset by her very presence. But thinking back, I can’t put my finger on how he manages to do this. It’s a feeling, an impression, an overall sense of what’s occurring. It’s like staring at the sun, then closing your eyes – you still see the afterimage, but when you try to focus, it fades away.

Brandon and Sissy

Brandon and Sissy’s background is never explained. There’s an off-hand mention of him being born in Ireland, and of them being raised in New Jersey, but we learn almost nothing about their family. There is a sense that their parents are no longer living, that the siblings grew up very close but have grown apart over the years, but I can’t recall any specific conversations or statements that would make me think that. It just feels that way.

Carey MulliganIt also seems as if there is something slightly sinister and possibly sexual hanging between Brandon and Sissy. He sees her naked in the shower, but he does not look away and she does not cover herself. She walks around his apartment in a sheer, flowy shirt with no bra underneath. She has sex with Brandon’s boss in Brandon’s bed while Brandon sits in the living room. They get into a fight while he’s wearing only a towel and the towel comes loose. She climbs into bed with him at night as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. If you didn’t know they were brother and sister, you would think they were estranged lovers.

Sissy is the only person who can make Brandon feel anything. Brandon’s enjoyment of sex is not a passionate or romantic one. It’s almost clinical. For him, ejaculation is like a compulsion, as necessary and natural as eating or breathing or pissing or sleeping. Masturbating in the shower at home and in the bathroom at work, watching porn online, hiring prostitutes, having sex with random women in dark alleys… there is no emotional release, only a physical one. But his relationship with his sister is very emotional. He tears up when he hears her sing, and the anger and hurt she stirs up in him is palpable.

Michael FassbenderFor a movie ostensibly about sex, Shame is not remotely sexy. The movie leaves you feeling red and raw, as if you’ve been trying to scrub yourself clean for an hour and a half.

Despite its NC-17 rating, Shame has been an industry darling since its premier at the 68th Venice Film Festival, and much has been written about Michael Fassbender’s Oscar snub. His portrayal of Brandon is open and honest and raw and vulnerable and infinitely compelling. There are scenes in which the camera focuses on Fassbender’s face as he stares into the distance, and it is absolutely captivating. Shame will make you squirm. It will make you feel uncomfortable and slightly dirty. You will walk out of the theater having experienced something truly profound and powerful, and I’m not just talking about seeing Fassbender’s enormous penis. This is truly Oscar-worthy material, and it’s a shame (natch) that the Academy didn’t recognize that.

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One Comment
  1. incaunipocrit permalink
    February 4, 2012 7:32 am

    Reblogged this on MOTEK.

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